# A Computing the future

One hundred years of computing from 1948 to 2048, stopping at the classes of 2003 and 1978, with some pictures, dad jokes and geek history.

## A.1 The class of 2003

Let’s start our computational odyssey in 2003, figure A.1 shows students of the MSc Computer Science class of 2003. That’s me in the back row standing highest on the left hand side. We are smiling because we were being entertained and educated by Richard Giordano, who took this picture while teaching. We are part of a community of more than 10,000 students have graduated a degree in Computer Science (undergraduate or postgraduate) since the University was the first in the UK to provide an undergraduate Computer Science degree course in 1965.

Twenty five years earlier, before many of the people in the above picture were born, there was the class of 1978…

## A.2 The class of 1978

Figure A.2 shows Manchester staff operating the MU5 computer sometime around 1978. Most people will have little interest in the hardware that the people in the picture are using. However, a wider audience may be interested in the suave and sophisticated seventies Saturday Night Fever dancing shoes that Pat McKissack on the left of the picture is wearing.

Now, Java junkie James Gosling has fond memories of using a whopping 8K of memory from around about the same period. But the class of 1948 (see section A.3) were alive today and had seen the Four Yorkshiremen sketch they’d probably say:

Memory? Memory! LUXURY….’Ere in Manchester, when we were lads and built computers, we didn’t even have any memory. We had to make our own from an old bit o’ tube we found lying around in t’lab. ‘Course it only stored 2048 bits and worked for a few hours. Ohhhh we used to DREAM of havin’ 8K of memory….

They may have had to use very primitive memory, but at least Tom and Freddie didn’t have to build their computers out of mechanical discs and wheels, or even better Meccano. Moving on swiftly, we go back a little further in time, thirty years earlier…

## A.3 The class of 1948

Our next stop is in 1948. We have to stop here because the Manchester Baby first ran on 21st June 1948. Figure A.3 shows Tom and Freddie with the Baby.

Armed with some double-sided sticky-tape, several empty fairy-liquid bottles, lots of patience and an idea from some bloke called Alan Turing, Tom and Freddie built the world’s first stored-program computer. The stored-program was significant as it was the predecessor to what we now call random-access memory (RAM), see figure A.4.

Figure A.4: This video was produced by Google as a tribute to the Manchester Baby — the first computer to run a program electronically stored in its memory. You can also watch the full 7 minute video embedded in this figure at youtu.be/cozcXiSSkwE

Does this mean the Manchester Baby is the world’s first computer? Well, it depends on your definition of computation: It is surprisingly hard to define what counts as a computer and who built the first one .

Whatever your definition, after Tom and Freddie, things were never the same again. The rest, as they say, is history. That computer you are using…

• laptop, desktop
• tablet, phone, satnav
• car, a computer with wheels
• plane, a computer with wings
• games console, wearable tech
• smart card, embedded system etc
• household appliances, washing machine, doorbell etc

… is a direct descendant of the rather strange looking machine in figure A.3.

### A.3.1 Numbers speak louder than words

What’s interesting about the difference between 1948 and now are the changes in the efficiency, size and speed of computers, shown in table A.1. It’s hard to describe in words the difference between 1948 and now, in this case, the numbers speak much louder than words ever could:

Table A.1: Advances in processor power 1948 to 2000, the Baby in 1948 is the Manchester Baby. The ARM in 2000 refers the ARM AMULET3H microprocessor taken from CS501: Machine architecture. Thanks to Jim Garside, Doug Edwards and Steve Furber for the data.
Baby in 1948 ARM in 2000
Size Filled a medium sized room fills 7mm by 3mm of silicon
Power usage (Watts) 3.5kW (3500W) 215mW (0.215W)
Instructions executed (per second) 700 100,000,000
Energy efficiency (Joules per instruction) 5 0.000 000 002 (that’s 2,000,000,000 times more efficient than The Baby!)

So where is all this going? What about the future? Let’s take a longer view, and skip forward from 1948 to 2048…

## A.4 The class of 2048?

Our next stop is 2048. For the number nerds out there, this year is pleasingly 100 years after 1948 so a sensible place to make our next stop. 2048 is also 100000000000 in binary (211) and the maximum number of bits (not bytes) that the Manchester Baby stored in its Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) memory. A whopping 2048 bits, or 256 bytes, with 8 bit bytes!

What will classes in the year 2048 be studying? Well, in the year 2048, Computer Science won’t exist anymore either because:

Either way, what is known as Computer Science today will have become so fundamental to many other areas of research, the discipline will naturally become more closely integrated with them. Take Manchester as an example, the hard-sums people will join the mathematics department, the architecture geeks and hardware nerds will join the engineering department, the Computational Biologists will go and join Life Sciences or Medicine, and so on. Of course, I could be very wrong here! As Niels Bohr in figure A.5 might have once said:

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. Which is a good point to close this essay on.2