In its most basic form a computer is any device which aids humans in performing various kinds of computations or calculations. In that respect the earliest computer was the abacus, used to perform basic arithmetic operations.

Every computer supports some form of input, processing, and output. This is less obvious on a primitive device such as the abacus where input, output and processing are simply the act of moving the pebbles into new positions, seeing the changed positions, and counting. Regardless, this is what computing is all about, in a nutshell. We input information, the computer processes it according to its basic logic or the program currently running, and outputs the results.

Modern computers do this electronically, which enables them to perform a vastly greater number of calculations or computations in less time. Despite the fact that we currently use computers to process images, sound, text and other non-numerical forms of data, all of it depends on nothing more than basic numerical calculations. Graphics, sound etc. are merely abstractions of the numbers being crunched within the machine; in digital computers these are the ones and zeros, representing electrical on and off states, and endless combinations of those. In other words every image, every sound, and every word have a corresponding binary code.

While abacus may have technically been the first computer most people today associate the word “computer” with electronic computers which were invented in the last century, and have evolved into modern computers we know of today.