As the computer engineer reader knows, 2 to the 6th is a key number in the binary numeral system. It also happens to be the number of years ago (plus 1) on February 14th that the first digital computer, the ENIAC, was born, at the University of Pennsylvania. When I went to Penn many years ago, the ENIAC was sort of there, or shall I say, pieces of it were there, strewn in a room that we all passed by pretty much everyday on our way to classes. You could have gone in there and taken the leftover vacuum tubes, which were the size of Starbucks Venti cups. We all knew it was there though, as I still remember the professors telling us our HP calculators we used even back then had more power than the ENIAC had.
For reasons unrelated to the ENIAC, I visited Penn recently and walked by the old engineering building. There is one of those “historic” signs in the front that proclaims the birth of the digital computing age happened in this very spot. Parts of the ENIAC are now proudly displayed in a kind of museum. I would hope the current and future students recognize the incredible innovative legacy staring them in the face, urging them forward towards future innovation.
In 65 short years, we have gone from those coffee mug sized vacuum tubes to smaller and smaller transistors, which have enabled incredible computing power in the form of microprocessors and the like. Enabling, of course, in today’s world, the device I’m writing this blog on, the device you’re reading this blog on, whether it’s your laptop or smartphone or tablet or something in between, and the delivery mechanism, whether it’s the internet or the mobile networks.
I will be visiting Penn many more times in the coming 4 years, and I hope to see what the current class of Penn engineering students are working on and are potentially getting trained for. After all, when I went there, I had to lug around computer punch cards my freshman year, the internet was not “invented” yet and no one, least of all me, had any idea that VoIP would even be an “industry.”