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past innovations

Black-and-white photograph of Alan Turing.

Universal machine

the theoretical basis for all computers

The theoretical basis for all modern computers was laid down when Alan Turing (1912-54) imagined a ‘universal machine’ in his 1936 paper ‘On co...

Close-up of a digital watch with a metallic casing.

Liquid crystal

transforming digital displays

Our lives are full of digital displays: clocks, watches, DVD players and computer or TV screens. Many of these make use of liquid crystal displ...

People gathered around a computer demonstration by Tim Berners-Lee.

World Wide Web

connecting the planet

The World Wide Web, which has transformed the way we access information and communicate with one another, was born when scientists sought more ...

A zoomed-in photograph of a microchip.

ARM chip

found in most of world's smartphones and tablets

The ARM (advanced RISC machine) processor is a family of processors used in devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers. Developed in 19...

Black-and-white photograph showing two women standing next to a bank of computer equipment.


the world’s first digital electronic computer

The Colossus was the world’s first digital electronic computer. Designed by Tommy Flowers (1905-98) at the Post Office Research Station in Doll...

A woman standing in front of a museum display of racks of computer equipment.

‘Baby’ Small Scale Experimental Machine

the first stored-program electronic digital computer

The Small Scale Experimental Machine, nicknamed the ‘Baby’ computer, was developed as a research prototype to prove the concept of digital stor...

Black-and-white photograph showing a large room full of computer banks. Two men on the left of the image are at a desk.

Ferranti Mark 1

the first commercial general-purpose electronic computer

The Ferranti Mark 1 ushered in the era of commercial computing. Having already completed work on a fast-evolving series of experimental computi...

Blue and green computer image of a car crashing into an obstacle.

Finite element method

key to computer simulations

This powerful method for dividing a complicated engineering problem into manageable pieces has revolutionised design and analysis....

Close-up view of wooden cabinet with glass panels. Inside are mechanical gears. Other similar cabinets can be seen in the background.

Hartree differential analyser

a machine to solve complex equations

Differential equations have numerous applications in engineering, chemistry, biology and economics. Since they can describe exponential growth ...

View of a computer terminal that fills a whole room. On the terminal are buttons and dials and a plaque reading ‘LEO’.


the first business computer

The LEO I (Lyons Electronic Office I) was the first computer used for commercial business applications.

J Lyons & Company ran te...

A clear dome with many plastic tubes connected inside. The tubes are lit in shades of red, yellow and orange.

Optical fibre

information arteries of today’s society

Optical fibres facilitate broadband communication that enables music, images and video to be transferred around the globe in a split second. Pu...

Donald Davies sits in front of a blackboard while holding a book. A computer is just visible at the left edge of the image.

Packet switch

foundation of the internet

Packet switching is the process by which all data (regardless of content, type or structure) is broken into suitable blocks or ‘packets’ and tr...

A large object made up of a wooden computer desk and a freestanding panel. The desk has dials and switches on it. The panel has hundreds of glass valves, some with coloured sleeves.

Pilot ACE

making the ‘universal machine’ a reality

The Pilot ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) was the first physical manifestation of the ‘universal machine’ outlined by the mathematician and wa...


Pulse Code Modulation

Foundation of digital telecommunications

Pulse-code modulation (PCM) was invented by Alec Reeves in 1937 while developing radio telephones for transatlantic calls. He wanted to make hi...

Room filled with old computer equipment.

Quicksort algorithm

the time-saving algorithm

While a visiting student at Moscow State University, Tony Hoare (1934- ) was asked to work on a project for machine translation from Russian to...