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Konrad who? Unsung computer pioneer remembered

DPA/The Local · 19 Apr 2010, 15:51

Published: 19 Apr 2010 15:51 GMT+02:00

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Six museums around the country, led by the German Museum of Technology (DTMB) are to celebrate the 100th year since Zuse’s birth and bring to light his largely forgotten contribution to the revolutionary invention of the 20th century.

“The computer didn’t come from America, and Bill Gates didn’t invent it,” said Dirk Böndel, director of the DTMB.

According to the DTMB’s research, Zuse who was born in 1910 and died in 1995, built the first programme-controlled digital computer in his Berlin living room in 1936. The computer, called Z1, was the size of a double bed. A replica now stands in the museum.

Zuse, an engineer by training, also devised in the 1940s the world’s first programming language using universal algorithms. Many mathematicians and information technology specialists now regard this creation as a work of genius, even though Zuse himself treated it as a light-hearted affair, claiming he was simply too lazy to count.

With his Z1 computer, Zuse was roughly a decade ahead of his time in the estimate of today’s IT specialists. Although Zuse received some financing from the Nazi regime, his work received little attention partly because Zuse deliberately did not seek a closeness to the Nazis, according to his son Horst.

Even after World War II, barely anyone in West Germany recognised the potential of Zuse’s creations. Even his own firm, Zuse KG, which Zuse founded in the Hessian city of Neukirchen, found little success.

The work simply didn’t bring enough money to cover the huge development costs. There were no development grants for such work at the time.

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Meanwhile big firms caught up: IBM in the US and Siemens and Telefunken in Germany. In 1967, Zuse was forced to sell his debt-ridden company to Siemens. It didn’t make him rich, son Horst explained. Yet the basic idea of the Zuse discovery lies even today in every computer processor.

A scientific symposium on Zuse’s achievements is being held Tuesday and Wednesday in Berlin. Zuse exhibitions will also be held this year in Dresden, Paderborn, Hünfeld, Hoyerswerda and Kiel.

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Your comments about this article

17:02 April 19, 2010 by trevzns
Mr. Konrad Zuse is one of the many unsung heroes involved with the invention of the computer. The man that invented the first computer was Alen Turing from Cambridge UK.

Dr. Philip Emeagwali from Nigeria Africa invented the world's fastest computer.

Who invented the computer is not a simple question with a simple answer there are many unsung contributors to the invention of the computer.
17:32 April 19, 2010 by Kayak
Babbage, Zuse and Turing... and that's, a'hem, Alan Mathison Turing. A reasonable history of computer development includes all three.
17:50 April 19, 2010 by michael4096
It certainly is not a "simple answer" even though you gave one.

The first programmable device to compute mathematical results was designed by Chales Babbage around 1834, though it wasn't built completely until recently. Programs were designed for it by lady Ada Lovelace who is considered the first programmer. It was totally mechanical.

Zuse built the first programmable electro-mechanical computer just over 100 years later.

Turing helped design the first electronic programmable computer called Collosus as part of the British code-breaking effort during WW2 but it was built by a guy called Tommy Flowers. Details of the project were kept secret until reletively recently because the British continued breaking the codes of countries still using the old German Enigma techniques for decades after the war. However, Colossus was programmed with a plug board and didn't hold the program in memory.

About the same time, mid-WW2, Anatassov & Berry completed their electronic computer in Iowa state college; it wasn't programmable - it just did one job - but, a judge in the US once ruled that it was the first computer.

The first 'stored-program' computer was ENIAC from U.Pen

The first *computer* depends what you call a computer.
20:38 April 19, 2010 by chrishale53
michael4096 is right - 'computer' requires a definition, and computerS had many inventors - starting with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

Given the technological limitations of his 'steam age' period, compared for example to Zuse's, Babbage's work on a mechanical calculator is genuinely astonishing - and should be celebrated. And before anyone comes over patriotic - he got very little support from the British government.

WHAT A SHAME that we have to have this vulgar race for the first launched by nationalist German historians of technology - presumably connected to the people who designed the reactionary Tech Museum in Berlin.

Can anyone explain why the miraculous near simultaneity of computer innovations deserve to be misrepresented as a 'race'.

For god's sake grow up.
11:32 April 20, 2010 by michael4096
Unfortunately, this "vulgar race" has been going on for decades and the reason why a judge had once to rule. The Germans are a little late claiming their place in the race line-up, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be there.

"..why the miraculous near simultaneity..?" Three reasons: war time need; technological ability and theoretical underpinning (thank Turing again.) Ironically, all of them originated out of earlier work done for the military and all lost financial support before completion because the military didn't believe they would work.

BTW There is a Zuse machine in the Deutches Museum in Munich if anybody doesn't want to go to Berlin.
14:09 April 20, 2010 by hanskarl
Wonderful comments here. I have learned more about the history of the advent of computers from them than the article in general. Thank You!
04:58 April 24, 2010 by Ed Tracey
A German-American (born in 1851, just three years after his parents emigrated during the 1848 unrest in Germany) is who The Economist magazine named in its Millennium Issue ten years ago - Herman Hollerith, whose design in 1890 helped the US census and whose company merged with three others and in 1924 was re-named IBM.

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