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Baby, The World's First Modern Computer Turns Sixty

The SSEM (Small Scale Experimental Machine) turned sixty on Saturday. Dubbed the Baby, it was turned on - literally - on the 21st of June 1948 in a small room in Manchester University and ran its first program with 128 bytes of memory and ran at 800Hz.

The 1-ton computer was the forerunner of today's computing generation, from iPods to iMacs and calculators; although there were other computers built before - the Colossus, ENIAC, Anatasoff-Berry Computer or Turing's Automatic Computing Engine - but the Manchester Machine, as it came to be known, was the first general-purpose stored-program electronic digital computer.

It worked thanks to a bewildering array of valves and wires and the only output was a monochrome CRT monitor

The brainchild of engineers F.C. Williams and Tom Kilburn, Baby, evolved to give birth to the first general purpose commercial computer, the Ferranti Mark 1 which later ran the first working Articificial intelligence software, a checkers player game.

Speaking to the BBC (opens in new tab), Chris Burton, from the Computer Conservation Society, said ""It was the earliest machine that was a computer, in the sense of what everyone today understands a computer to be."

A working model of the SSEM can still be seen on display at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.