IBM’s Centennial anniversary is fast approaching, and their 100 years of hard work shouldn’t go unnoticed. Behind every major technological advance, you’re likely to find IBM’s name floating around somewhere. Here are nine of our favourite IBM-aided innovations.
Without IBM, we wouldn’t have computers at all. From the earliest, most rudimentary number crunchers to mass-produced machines to personal computers to supercomputers, IBM played a role in the development and evolution of every major computing trend. Though other consumer machines existed before it, and Apple and Microsoft took things to new levels after it, it wasn’t until the introduction of the IBM 5150 PC in 1981 that the world began to really understand what these nerd boxes were about. Hell, in 1982, it was Time’s Machine of the Year.
Three IBM scientists, Samuel Blum, Rangaswamy Srinivasan and James J. Wynne, weren’t sure what to do with the ultraviolet excimer laser their company had acquired in 1981. So Srinivasan brought some leftover Thanksgiving turkey into the office to see what would happen when they lased it. As it turns out, it vaporised the point of contact without damaging the tissue around it. This was the birth of Lasik eye surgery, which was approved by the FDA in 1995 to restore clarity to our vision.
RAM is the technology that makes all our computers generally speedy and responsive. In 1967 Robert Dennard invented a Dynamic Random Access Memory cell comprised of one transistor, otherwise known as DRAM. It was patented in 1968, and then became the basis for most consumer memory solutions today.
In 1994, IBM engineers John King and John Nilsen were awarded a patent for a “system for ordering items using an electronic catalogue”. This in essence began the era of online shopping. Without IBM, would Amazon be as advanced as it is today?
Though we’re exiting the era of magnetic storage with SSDs and thumb drives, IBM was responsible for the last 30 years of hard drives that held all the data on our machines. William Goddard’s research in the 1950s eventually became the 350 Disk Storage Unit, the first implementation of magnetic storage in computers. The first models, which appeared in 1956, sat in a cabinet nearly 1.8m tall and 1.5m wide, and contained 50 magnetic disk platters which spun at 1200 RPMs. The first generation 350 could hold up to five million characters/numbers. Over 1000 units were sold before the 350 was retired in 1961.
According to Popular Mechanics, IBM technologies are responsible for two of the most used technologies in the consumer world today: barcodes and the magnetic strips found on cards of all sorts (credit, debit, transportation, identification, etc).
The first ideas for barcodes popped up in the late 1940s, but lacked the proper technology for reading and interpreting the symbols. When the advent of the laser came around, IBM engineer George Laurer and his team developed a system for interpreting the codes, which split the graphic design in two, which allowed an x-pattern laser to read it. After first appearing on a product in 1974, the barcode is still used today on an innumerable amount of products.
As for the magnetic strip. Jerome Svigals first developed the technology in the late 1960s, with a piece of cardboard with a taped-on magnetic strip serving as the first prototype serving. The technology eventually made it to the people in the 1970s, and now more than 50 billion magnetic swipes happen each year.
Current-Gen Video Game Consoles
I bet you like those video game consoles sitting underneath your TV, don’t you? Those are powered by IBM’s CPU technologies. Nintendo has used IBM processors in their consoles since the gamecube, and the upcoming IBM processor in the Wii 2 will incorporate some of the supercomputer DNA found in Watson. The PS3 also owes a great deal of its processing power to the IBM Cell processor contained within. And though it’s a bit less tame in marketing hype, the Xbox 360 also uses a triple-core IBM processor.