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The First Programming Languages Predate the Modern Computer.

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The first programming languages predate the modern computer.

During a nine-month period in 1842-1843, Ada Lovelace translated the memoir of Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea about Charles Babbage's newest proposed machine, the Analytical Engine. With the article she appended a set of notes which specified in complete detail a method for calculating Bernoulli numbers with the Analytical Engine, recognized by some historians as the world's first computer program.[1]

Herman Hollerith realized that he could encode information on punch cards when he observed that train conductors encode the appearance of the ticket holders on the train tickets using the position of punched holes on the tickets. Hollerith then encoded the 1890 census data on punch cards.

The first computer codes were specialized for their applications. In the first decades of the 20th century, numerical calculations were based on decimal numbers. Eventually it was realized that logic could be represented with numbers, not only with words. For example, Alonzo Church was able to express the lambda calculus in a formulaic way. The Turing machine was an abstraction of the operation of a tape-marking machine, for example, in use at the telephone companies. Turing machines set the basis for storage of programs as data in the von Neumann architecture of computers by representing a machine through a finite number. However, unlike the lambda calculus, Turing's code does not serve well as a basis for higher-level languages—its principal use is in rigorous analyses of algorithmic complexity.

Like many "firsts" in history, the first modern programming language is hard to identify. From the start, the restrictions of the hardware defined the language. Punch cards allowed 80 columns, but some of the columns had to be used for a sorting number on each card. FORTRAN included some keywords which were the...

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