HAL from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey". Look at the previous picture to understand why the movie makers in 1968 assumed computers of the future would be things you walk into.JOHNNIAC was a reference to John von Neumann, who was unquestionably a genius. At age 6 he could tell jokes in classical Greek. By 8 he was doing calculus. He could recite books he had read years earlier word for word. He could read a page of the phone directory and then recite it backwards. On one occasion it took von Neumann only 6 minutes to solve a problem in his head that another professor had spent hours on using a mechanical calculator. Von Neumann is perhaps most famous (infamous?) as the man who worked out the complicated method needed to detonate an atomic bomb.
Once the computer's program was represented electronically, modifications to that program could happen as fast as the computer could compute. In fact, computer programs could now modify themselves while they ran (such programs are called self-modifying programs). This introduced a new way for a program to fail: faulty logic in the program could cause it to damage itself. This is one source of the general protection fault famous in MS-DOS and the blue screen of death famous in Windows.
Today, one of the most notable characteristics of a computer is the fact that its ability to be reprogrammed allows it to contribute to a wide variety of endeavors, such as the following completely unrelated fields:
- the creation of special effects for movies,
- the compression of music to allow more minutes of music to fit within the limited memory of an MP3 player,
- the observation of car tire rotation to detect and prevent skids in an anti-lock braking system (ABS),
- the analysis of the writing style in Shakespeare's work with the goal of proving whether a single individual really was responsible for all these pieces.