Celebrating the Invention of Electronic Digital Computing

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 05/01/2023
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Celebrating the Invention of Electronic Digital ComputingThe IEEE JVA Symposium on Modern Computing as part of the IEEE Services Congress (2-6 July 2023, in Chicago) is dedicated to the inventor of electronic digital computing – John Vincent Atanasoff. The symposium serves as a tribute to this pioneer’s revolutionary accomplishments and celebration of Atanasoff’s 120th birthday. It brings together scientists, researchers, and professionals from different countries to discuss the future of computing and the legacy of Atanasoff’s work.

A Congress-level plenary session will include John Gustafson, best known for the Gustafson’s Law, delivering a keynote presentation on “Ten Persistent Myths About the Atanasoff-Berry Computer.” This talk will provide a more fact-based and technical look at one of the more emotion-prone chapters in computing history: the creation of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and its influence on the computers that came later.

The symposium will also feature a Congress-level plenary panel on the invention of electronic digital computing. Chaired by Vladimir Getov (University of Westminster), the panel will include John V. Atanasoff II (JVA Initiative Chairman), Gordon Bell (Microsoft Research), Kiril Boyanov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), Carl Chang (Iowa State University), John Gustafson (Arizona State University), Hironori Kasahara (Waseda University), Dejan Milojicic (Hewlett Packard Labs), and Michael Williams (University of Calgary). The main goal of this roundtable discussion will be to recognize the exceptional contributions of John V. Atanasoff for the invention and development of electronic digital computing and computers, which marked the beginning of the information revolution.

Indeed, the first automatic digital electronic computer was invented in 1939 by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff, also known as the father of the computer. One of the key innovations that Atanasoff introduced was using binary digits instead of decimal numbers. This binary digit system allowed for faster calculations and the ability to store and retrieve information electronically. These features are essential to the modern supercomputers we have today. In addition to binary digits, Atanasoff’s invention demonstrated the importance of memory and logic systems in computing. His computer used capacitors to store data, allowing faster access times than other devices. The machine also used a logical system based on Boolean algebra, which allowed for more efficient computation and data manipulation.

Today, supercomputers and servers rely heavily on electronic storage and retrieval of information, as well as parallel computing. It is not widely known that the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC) used parallelism in its memory and computation systems. In the memory system, the ABC used capacitors arranged in a parallel fashion, which allowed multiple bits of data to be stored and accessed simultaneously. In the computation system, the ABC used a parallel method of calculation known as simultaneous equations. This involved solving multiple equations simultaneously, rather than one equation at a time. This parallel approach allowed for more efficient computation and faster processing times. These features are essential for today’s computers, confirming that Atanasoff’s work laid the foundation for the development of modern information technologies.