Pocket Genius Science: Energy and forces – Computers

Facts At Your Fingertips: Energy and forces – Computers

A computer is a machine that can be programmed to perform a huge range of tasks.

Computers work using simple electronic circuits, called transistors, which can only be turned on or off.

Millions of transistors can be combined to form microprocessors, which process instructions and tell the computer what to do.

Early computers

Scientists in the UK and the US developed the first programmable electronic computers during World War II.

With circuits made up of bulky wire and valves, these early computers were huge, often filling entire rooms.


Computers began to get smaller and faster following the invention of the microchip in the late 1950s.

A microchip is a small piece of semiconducting material, such as silicon (see page 35), on to which millions of tiny circuits have been traced.

Modern computers

Modern computers are much smaller and millions of times more powerful than the earliest computers.

Packed with microchips, they can process millions of instructions in the blink of an eye, allowing them to run applications, take pictures, operate phones, surf the Web, and play games all at the same time

Artificial intelligence

Even the most powerful computers have to be programmed—they can do only what people tell them to do.

But some experts believe that computers will one day become so advanced that computers and robots will have artificial intelligence—they will be able to think for themselves and learn from their mistakes.