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Eniac in ActionMaking and Remaking the Modern Computer$
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Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley, and Crispin Rope

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262033985

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262033985.001.0001

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ENIAC and Its Contemporaries Meet the “Stored Program Concept”

ENIAC and Its Contemporaries Meet the “Stored Program Concept”

(p.231) 11 ENIAC and Its Contemporaries Meet the “Stored Program Concept”
Eniac in Action

Thomas Haigh

Mark Priestley

Crispin Rope

The MIT Press

Having explored ENIAC’s actual use and the programs it ran the authors shift to a more abstract analytical level. Previous discussion of the invention of the modern computer has focused on the “stored program concept” as the crucial innovation setting modern computers apart from their more limited predecessors. The authors explore the origins of this phrase and its changing meaning over time. They look in detail at a 1944 document produced by J. Presper Eckert and sometimes claimed as a first statement of this concept, showing that it actually describes an electronic desk calculator. The authors summarize ENIAC’s capabilities after conversion and to compare these on both practical and theoretical levels with the 1945 EDVAC design and with several other early computers. This supports a balanced appraisal of the senses in which the converted ENIAC did and did not constitute an initial implementation of the key ideas from the 1945 design. The chapter argues for an appraisal of early computers better grounded in the historical realities of documented use, and against a widespread fixation on the notion of “universality” based on a school of theoretical computer science that gained prominence years later.

Keywords:   Stored program concept, Eckert, J. Presper, IBM, EDSAC, Manchester SSEM, Turing, Alan, IBM SSEC

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