Boffin is proud to have his Baby back

Esther Leach on the rebuilt computer that reminds the world Manchester did it first
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The Independent Online
THE FINAL tweaks are being made to a replica of the world's first modern computer, nicknamed Baby, to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

About 7ft tall and 16ft long, it stands in a warehouse of the Scientific and Industrial Museum in Manchester. One of the first milestones in the history of new technology, Baby was built by Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams. It ran its first program on 21 June 1948 at Manchester University and was a machine that was to change the world.

Professor Kilburn, 76, who wrote the world's first computer program, said the likeness of the replica to the machine he helped to build made him feel very emotional. "It brings back that time in such a perfect way," he said.

Chris Burton, a chartered electrical engineer who has spent his career in computers, aided by volunteers from the Computer Conservation Society and supported by ICL, re-created Baby over two years with notes made during Baby's creation and guidance from Professor Kilburn.

Mr Burton said it was the ability to store and run programs put in by a user that set Baby apart from earlier special-purpose computing machines. "Those required mechanical intervention to run programs - for example, changing wire connections, in much the same way that operators used to transfer calls on old-fashioned telephone exchanges. By using what we now call software, Baby became the model for computers as we know them."

Mr Burton said the pioneers of computer technology were heroes whose achievements should be recognised. "Ask anyone to name the people behind the success of computers and they will be hard pressed to come up with anyone, perhaps Bill Gates or Alan Turing. They won't know the names of Kilburn and Williams. The idea of this and the Computer Conservation Society is to raise the profile of these unsung heroes."

Professor Kilburn began his career as an electronics engineer with the Government's Telecommunications Research Establishment during the last war.

Celebrations to mark the anniversary of Baby are well advanced in Manchester, in a summer-long festival called Digital Summer 98, run by the city's council, the university, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Manchester Museum, ICL, and the International Symposium of Electronic Art 98.

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