News / Science & Technology

50th Anniversary of a Language That Changed the World

50th Anniversary of a Language That Changed the Worldi
X
George Putic
April 29, 2014 9:01 PM
May 1st marks the 50th anniversary of a special computer language aimed at enabling college students not trained in mathematics to use computers. The birth of BASIC is now seen as a major step toward the era of personal computers. VOA’s George Putic reports.
50th Anniversary of Language That Changed the World
George Putic
May 1 marks the 50th anniversary of a special computer language aimed at enabling college students not trained in mathematics to use computers.  The birth of BASIC is now seen as a major step toward the era of personal computers.

50 years ago, computers were owned primarily by governments, businesses and universities, operated by programmers who wrote pages of instructions that consisted of mathematical formulas.

Hoping their school’s computer could be used by students from other departments, two mathematics professors at Dartmouth College, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, developed a simpler set of instructions.  It was called Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, or BASIC.

Kurtz spoke to VOA via Skype.

“We deliberately invented a language that was almost devoid of many of the technical details that were present in other languages," said Kurtz.

BASIC translated English commands, such as IF…THEN, or GO...TO, into the numerical language computers could understand.

Kurtz said the response was overwhelming.

“Not only our students loved getting onto the computer any time they wanted to, for whatever purpose they wanted to, but even the faculty got interested. Of course not everybody, but many of them," he said.

That happened just as computers became fast enough to execute many commands at the same time, says Peggy Kidwell, Curator of Mathematics at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

“Now, that whole notion that anybody could run a computer permeates the whole world. And I would say that is not the immediate legacy of BASIC but it is a part of what was involved in building up on BASIC," said Kidwell.

Kurtz and Kemeny released BASIC to the public, free of charge, so the language quickly became widespread.  Kurtz says they hoped it would solve what they saw as a major upcoming problem.

“That is to say, the computer is going to be very important in the world and most people didn’t know anything about it because it was in the hands of experts," he said.

The rapid development of computers was followed by many improved versions of BASIC... and other easy to use languages.  

Today, BASIC is used only by enthusiasts, but personal computers owe their existence to the first programing language that anyone could speak.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs