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Generations Of Computer Essay Questions

Each generation of computer is characterized by a major technological development that fundamentally changed the way computers operate, resulting in increasingly smaller, cheaper, more powerful and more efficient and reliable devices.

The history of computer development is often referred to in reference to the different generations of computing devices. Each generation of computer is characterized by a major technological development that fundamentally changed the way computers operate, resulting in increasingly smaller, cheaper, more powerful and more efficient and reliable devices. Read about each generation and the developments that led to the current devices that we use today.

First Generation (1940-1956) Vacuum Tubes

The first computers used vacuum tubes for circuitry and magnetic drums for memory, and were often enormous, taking up entire rooms. They were very expensive to operate and in addition to using a great deal of electricity, generated a lot of heat, which was often the cause of malfunctions.

First generation computers relied on machine language, the lowest-level programming language understood by computers, to perform operations, and they could only solve one problem at a time. Input was based on punched cards and paper tape, and output was displayed on printouts.

The UNIVAC and ENIAC computers are examples of first-generation computing devices. The UNIVAC was the first commercial computer delivered to a business client, the U.S. Census Bureau in 1951.

Second Generation (1956-1963) Transistors

Transistors replaced vacuum tubes and ushered in the second generation of computers. The transistor was invented in 1947 but did not see widespread use in computers until the late 1950s. The transistor was far superior to the vacuum tube, allowing computers to become smaller, faster, cheaper, more energy-efficient and more reliable than their first-generation predecessors. Though the transistor still generated a great deal of heat that subjected the computer to damage, it was a vast improvement over the vacuum tube. Second-generation computers still relied on punched cards for input and printouts for output.

Second-generation computers moved from cryptic binary machine language to symbolic, or assembly, languages, which allowed programmers to specify instructions in words. High-level programming languages were also being developed at this time, such as early versions of COBOL and FORTRAN. These were also the first computers that stored their instructions in their memory, which moved from a magnetic drum to magnetic core technology.

The first computers of this generation were developed for the atomic energy industry.

Third Generation (1964-1971) Integrated Circuits

The development of the integrated circuit was the hallmark of the third generation of computers. Transistors were miniaturized and placed on silicon chips, called semiconductors, which drastically increased the speed and efficiency of computers.

Instead of punched cards and printouts, users interacted with third generation computers through keyboards and monitors and interfaced with an operating system, which allowed the device to run many different applications at one time with a central program that monitored the memory. Computers for the first time became accessible to a mass audience because they were smaller and cheaper than their predecessors.

Fourth Generation (1971-Present) Microprocessors

The microprocessor brought the fourth generation of computers, as thousands of integrated circuits were built onto a single silicon chip. What in the first generation filled an entire room could now fit in the palm of the hand. The Intel 4004 chip, developed in 1971, located all the components of the computer—from the central processing unit and memory to input/output controls—on a single chip.

In 1981 IBM introduced its first computer for the home user, and in 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh. Microprocessors also moved out of the realm of desktop computers and into many areas of life as more and more everyday products began to use microprocessors.

As these small computers became more powerful, they could be linked together to form networks, which eventually led to the development of the Internet. Fourth generation computers also saw the development of GUIs, the mouse and handheld devices.

Fifth Generation (Present and Beyond) Artificial Intelligence

Fifth generation computing devices, based on artificial intelligence, are still in development, though there are some applications, such as voice recognition, that are being used today. The use of parallel processing and superconductors is helping to make artificial intelligence a reality. Quantum computation and molecular and nanotechnology will radically change the face of computers in years to come. The goal of fifth-generation computing is to develop devices that respond to natural language input and are capable of learning and self-organization.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as “the study and design of intelligent agents” where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. John McCarthy, who coined the term in 1956, defines it as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”

The field was founded on the claim that a central property of humans, intelligence—the sapience of Homo sapiens—can be so precisely described that it can be simulated by a machine. This raises philosophical issues about the nature of the mind and the ethics of creating artificial beings, issues which have been addressed by myth, fiction and philosophy since antiquity. Artificial intelligence has been the subject of optimism, but has also suffered setbacks and, today, has become an essential part of the technology industry, providing the heavy lifting for many of the most difficult problems in computer science.

AI research is highly technical and specialized, deeply divided into subfields that often fail to communicate with each other. Subfields have grown up around particular institutions, the work of individual researchers, the solution of specific problems, longstanding differences of opinion about how AI should be done and the application of widely differing tools. The central problems of AI include such traits as reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, communication, perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects. General intelligence (or “strong AI”) is still among the field’s long term goals.

Read other post about Computer History:

Inventors of the Modern Computer (Konrad Zuse)

Inventors of the Modern Computer (John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry)

Inventors of the Modern Computer (Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper)

The History of the ENIAC Computer

The History of the UNIVAC Computer

History of Laptop Computers

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Tags: artificial intelligence, computer, computer history, computer science, eniac, four generation, integrated circuits, microprocessors, Technology, transistors, vacuum tubes


Computer generations classification is mainly based on the basic devices used. Also, the considerations are the architecture, languages, modes of operation, etc. The function performed by the computer and the speed of their operations have been changing since the old days to the most modern computer. Based on the period of development and the features incorporated, the computers are classified into different generations- First generation to Fifth generation. This is called the computer generation.

The classification and time periods are given below:

  1. First Generation Computer (1945-1955)
  2. Second Generation Computer (1957-1963)
  3. Third Generation Computer (1964-1971)
  4. Fourth Generation Computer (1972 onward)
  5. Fifth Generation Computer (Present and future)

1.) First Generation Computer (1945-1955)

First generation computers were characterized by the fact that operating instructions were made to order for the specific task for which the computer was to be used. It was operated on the ' Principle of Thermionic Emission".

In the first generation computer, vacuum tubes as CPU, magnetic drum for data storage , and machines languages were used for giving instruction.The computer of this generation was very large in size called room-sized computers.

The programming of first generation computers was done in machine languages (0s and 1s). Afterward, assembly languages were developed and used in first generation computer.

Features of first generation computers:

  • Technology used: vacuum tube
  • Machines languages were used to instruct the computer.
  • Magnetic core memory was used as primary memory.
  • Electrostatic tubes, Parer tape, punch card, magnetic tape
  • Punched card, printing devices were used for input/output operations and store the result.
  • It occupies very large space, slow processing, inefficient and unreliable due to low accuracy.
  • Power consumption was very high and it generated much heat.
  • It could only perform straight forward simple numerical calculation.
  • Computer used to be much expensive.

The example of first generation computers is ENIAC, UNIVAC,EDVAC, and EDSAC.

2.) Second Generation Computer (1957-1963)

Second generation computer replaced machine language with assembly language, allowing abbreviated programming codes to replace long, difficult binary codes.

The transistor was developed in this generation. A transistor transfers electric signals across a resistor. A transistor was highly reliable compared to tubes.

The transistor was far more superior in performance on account of their miniature size, smaller power consumption, and heat production rate. The second generation computer used these semiconductor devices.

Some of its features are:

  • Technology used: Transistor
  • Operating speed was in terms of a microsecond.
  • Assembly language and machines independent language such as COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) and FORTRAN (Formula Translation) were introduced the size of the computer.
  • Magnetic core memory was used as primary memory.
  • Magnetic drum and magnetic tape were used as secondary memory.
  • Power required to operate them was low.
  • It could perform scientific calculation such as solving differential equations.
  • Storage capacity and use of computers are increased.

3.) Third Generation Computer (1964-1971)

Transistors were an improvement over the vacuum tube, but they still generated a great heat, which damaged the computer's sensitive parts. The quartz eliminated this problem.

Transistors were replaced with an integrated circuit known popularly as chips. Scientist managed to fit many components on a single chip. As a result, the computer became ever smaller as more components were squeezed on the chip.

IC was first designed and fabricated by Jack S Kilby at Texas Instrument and by Robert S Noyce at Fairchild independently. IC is a circuit consisting of a large number of electronic components placed on a single silicon chip by a photo-lithographic process.

Magnetic disks began to replace magnetic tape for auxiliary and video display terminals were introduced for the output of data. Keyboards were used for the input of data. A new operating system was introduced for automatic processing and multi-programming.

These computers were highly reliable, relatively expensive and faster. High-level programming languages continued to be a developer. The example of third generation computers is IBM-360 series, ICL-900 series, and Honeywell 200 series.

Features of the third generation computers are:

  • The technology used: IC (Integrated Circuit).
  • Transistors were replaced by IC in their electronic circuitry.
  • High-level languages like FORTAN , BASIC and other are used to develop programs.
  • Semiconductor memory like RAM and ROM were used as primary memory.
  • Monitor and keyboard were introduced for data input and output respectively.
  • Multiprogramming facility was developed.
  • The computer was used in census calculation, military, banks and industries.
  • Size, cost, power requirement and heat generation decreased.
  • Processing speed and storage capacity used of computer increased.

4.) Fourth Generation Computer (1972 onward)

The invention of microprocessor chip marked the beginning of the fourth generation computers. Semiconductor memories replaced magnetic core memories. The invention of microprocessors led to the development of microcomputer or the personal computer.

The first microprocessor called Intel 4004 was developed by American Intel Corporation 1971.

This computer has faster generation language and application software for microcomputers became popular and allowed home and business users to adapt their computers for word processing, spreadsheet manipulating, file handing and graphics.

In this generation, the concept of computer networks and CD-ROMs came into existence.

Features of the fourth generation computer are:

  • Technology in use: VLSI is introduced and used Microprocessor-based technology.
  • Problem-oriented fourth generation language (4GL) is used to develop the program.
  • Semiconductor like RAM, ROM and cache memory is used as a primary memory.
  • Magnetic disks like hard disk, optical disk (CD,DVD), Blue-ray disk, flashes memory (memory chip, pen drive) are used as secondary memory.
  • E-mail, Internet and mobile communication are developed.
  • Advanced, user-friendly, web page software are developed.
  • Size, cost, power requirement, heat generation decreased compared to the previous generation.
  • Operating speed, storage capacity ,use of computer increased compared to the previous generation

The example of the fourth generation computer is IBM-PC, HP laptops, Mac notebook etc.

5.) Fifth Generation Computer (Present and future)

The aim is to bring machines with genuine IQ, the ability to reason logically and with real knowledge of the word. Thus, this computer will be totally different, totally novel and totally new than last four generations of computer.

Fifth generation computer was based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and that is still developing process, but not yet a reality i.e this computer is incomplete. The scientists are working on it still.

These computers will be able to converse with people and will be able to mimic human sense, manual skills, and intelligence.

Features of the fifth generation computers are:

  • Technology to be used: These machines will incorporate Bio-chip and VVLSI (Very Very Large Scale Integration) or Ultra-Large Scale Integration (ULSI)
  • The computer will have Artificial Intelligence (AI).
  • Natural language will be used to develop programs.
  • The computer will have parallel processing in full fledge.
  • The operating speed will be in terms of LIPS(Logical Inference per Second)
  • These aim is to solve highly complex problems, which require great intelligence and expertise when solved by people.
  • Quantum computation, molecular and nanotechnology will be used completely.


Shrestha, R. P., & Manandhar, s. (2014). Computer Essential. Kathmandu: Ashmita publication.

Gurung, Juddha Bahadur,Computer Science-XI, Bhundipuran Prakashan,Ktm