The Computer Revolution

The invention of the computer in the twentieth century caused an information revolution. Few aspects of modern life remain untouched by computers. Computers help to run businesses and power plants. They help scientists conduct advanced research. When computers are connected to satellites, they make global communications possible. The development of the computer technology has given rise to the phrase “Information Age.”

The Birth of Computers

Although most people use computers every day, not everyone can define exactly what a computer is. On the most basic level, a computer is a device for making mathematical calculations and for storing, processing, and rapidly manipulating data. Computers have made it possible to preserve vast amounts of data in a relatively short time. When computers are linked up in a vast network, they allow people to communicate instantaneously over long distances.

Many people contributed to the development of the computer. The first electronic computers were built in the 1940s. They were giant, slow machines, with thousands of vacuum tubes. After the invention of the silicon chip in 1958, the computer was gradually reduced in size. Personal computers became widely available in the 1970s. By installing basic programs, individual users could perform complex and difficult tasks quickly and easily.

Photo of a woman standing in front of a tall and complex electrical and mechanical switch board.

Machines like this one, an early “computing machine” for codebreaking used during World War II, marked the start of an information revolution that transformed the world.

Over the next few decades, personal computers replaced typewriters and account books in homes and businesses worldwide. At the same time, computer technology spread into many different fields. Computerized robots operate in factories. Computers remotely control satellites and probes in space, and students use them in school classrooms. Researchers developed computer models to predict disasters or understand environmental changes. Urban planners developed models for future growth of cities. In today's world, computers are everywhere, providing essential information and controlling critical services.

The Internet

Like the computer, the Internet has no single inventor. In the 1970s, the U.S. government along with several American universities led efforts to link computer systems together via cables and satellites. In 1989, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee proposed a system of linked documents that could be reached through a computer network. His proposal quickly developed into the World Wide Web, or Internet. Using the Internet, a person can instantly communicate with other users around the world and access vast storehouses of information.

By 2000, the Internet had grown to a gigantic network, linking individuals, governments, and businesses around the world. E-commerce, or buying and selling on the Internet, contributed to economic growth. The Internet affected people in both the industrial and the developing world. It connected people anywhere with access to a computer to a world of ideas and information. Today, it is estimated that about one third of the world's 6.8 billion people use the Internet on a regular basis.

Breakthroughs in Medicine and Biotechnology

Science and technology have revolutionized our understanding of all forms of life and changed the face of our planets. Every year, new developments in medicine improve treatments for diseases. In recent decades, scientists and engineers have made great advances in biotechnology, or the application of biological research to industry, engineering, and technology.


End ofPage 902

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments