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UK Computer Society To Recreate First Modern Computer

January 13, 2011

Officials from the UK’s Computer Conservation Society (CCS) have announced plans to create a working replica of the first fully operational stored program computer.

The computer in question, the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), was created as a research aid at Cambridge University back in the 1940s. According to BBC News, it was the first “recognizably modern computer” ever assembled, and now it is being rebuilt at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, representatives of the Museum announced Thursday.

The reason for the project, according to the Museum’s official website, is “to inform the general public about Britain’s illustrious computer heritage and to inspire future students of engineering and computing.” The public will be permitted to observe the project along the way, and completion of the EDSAC doppelganger is expected to take approximately three to four years.

“The EDSAC was a brilliant achievement that laid the foundations for general purpose computing and introduced programming methods adopted worldwide and still in use,” CCS Chairman David Hartley said in a statement Thursday. “By recreating EDSAC where the public can watch the process, we aim to enthuse a new generation of computer science and engineering students with the genius of those post-war pioneers at Cambridge University.”

“EDSAC set computing standards for academia and commerce,” added Professor Andrew Hopper, Head of the Computer Laboratory at Cambridge University. “It was so successful that in the nine years following 1949 it was used by Cambridge University researchers in studies such as genetics, meteorology and X-ray crystallography and even helped two researchers win Nobel prizes. EDSAC also led directly to the first commercially applied computer, the LEO, that broke new ground by enabling the catering company J Lyons & Co Ltd to perform payroll calculations in 1953.”

The original EDSAC was built by a team led by then-Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory Director Sir Maurice Wilkes, who according to the Museum sought “to produce a practical and reliable computer using proven hardware and imaginative software programming techniques.” The current project is being funded by entrepreneur Hermann Hauser, and will attempt to recreate the 215 square foot original as authentically as possible.

The project will cost nearly $400,000, according to BBC News.

“Recreating a fully-functioning EDSAC computer is quite a challenge, but our experience in rebuilding the Colossus computer gives us confidence and insight,” National Museum of Computing Director and Trustee Kevin Murrell said.

Image Caption: EDSAC I in construction. EDSAC was one of the first computers to implement the stored program (von Neumann) architecture. Copyright Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge (Wikipedia)  

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