University of Manchester | Computer Science class of 2003, 1970, 1948 and 2048

Masters of Science 1948-2048

The Class of 1948, 1970, 2003 and 2048

A journey through the time, stopping at the Computer Science classes of 2003, 1970, 1948 and 2048 in Manchester, with pictures and commentary.

Computers have been with us for a while, but let's start in 2003: The picture below shows students of the MSc Advanced Computer Science - Foundation route class of 2003. The people in the picture are smiling because they are being entertained by Richard Giordano, who took this picture while teaching. Most of these people have moved on, although some stayed on to do research including Matthew Horridge, Michael Parkin, Karim Nashar and myself (the one in the back row with the dodgy haircut).

Masters of Computer Science

Thirty years earlier, before most of the people in the above picture were born, there was the...

Class of 1970-something

The picture shows Manchester staff and students circa 1970. Most socially well-adjusted people will have little interest in the MU5 computer that the people in the picture are using. However, a wider audience may be interested in the fantastic Saturday-Night-Fever style boots that the woman on the left of the picture (arrowed) is wearing.

Class of 1970 something

Now, Sun supremo James Gosling has fond memories of using a whopping 8K of memory from around about the same period. But if Tom and Freddie (see class of 1948 below) were alive today and had seen Monty Pythons Four Yorkshiremen sketch below...

...they would probably reply to James:

Memory? Memory! LUXURY....'Ere in Manchester, when we were lads and built computers, we didn't even have any memory. We had to make our own from an old bit o' tube we found lying around in t'lab. 'Course it only stored 2048 bits and worked for a few hours. Ohhhh we used to DREAM of havin' 8K of memory.....

They may have had to use very primitive memory, but at least Tom and Freddie didn't have to build their computers out of mechanical discs and wheels, or even better Meccano! Moving on swiftly, we go back a little further in time, twenty years earlier...

Class of 1948

The picture shows Tom and Freddie in 1948 with the “Manchester Baby”.

Kilburn and Williams pictured with the Manchester Baby

Armed with some sticky-tape, several empty fairy-liquid bottles, lots of patience and the help of some bloke called Alan Turing, Tom and Freddie built the world's first stored program computer. Was this the world's first computer? Well, it depends on your definition: It is surprisingly hard to define what counts as a computer and who built the first one. After Tom and Freddie, things were never the same again. The rest, as they say, is history. That computer you are using, wether its a desktop, iPod, mobile phone, Palm, SatNav, washing machine, toaster etc is a direct descendant of the rather strange looking machine in the picture.

Numbers speak louder than words

What's interesting about the difference between 1948 and now are the changes in the efficiency, size and speed of computers, shown in table below. It's hard to describe in words the difference between 1948 and now, in this case, the numbers speak much louder than words ever could...

Feature Manchester Baby, 1948 Processor* from year 2000
Size Filled a medium sized room fills 7 mm by 3mm of silicon
Electrical power usage (Watts) 3.5kW (3 500 W) 215mW (0.215 W)
Instructions executed per second 700 100,000,000
Energy efficiency (Joules per instruction) 5 0.000 000 002 (e.g. 2,000,000,000 times more efficient than The Baby)

(*The numbers in the table are based on ARM AMULET3H microprocessor and are the most interesting thing I learnt in CS501: Machine architecture. The rest was blood, sweat and tears.)

So where is all this going? What about the future? Let's take a longer view, and skip forward from 1948 to 2048...

Class of 2048?

What will classes in the year 2048 be studying? Well in year 2048, Computer Science won't exist anymore either because:

Either way, what is known as “Computer Science” today will have become so fundamental to many other areas of research, the discipline will naturally become more closely integrated with them. Take Manchester as an example, the hard-sums people will join the shiny new mathematics department, the architecture geeks and hardware nerds will join the engineering department, the Computational Biologists will go and join Life Sciences or Medicine, and so on. Of course, I could be very wrong here! As Niels Bohr said:

“Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future.”

Which is a good point to close this essay on.