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Famous Inventions to Come from IBM

netapp6The following are some of the most famous and used inventions to have come from the minds working at IBM. Consider each of the items on this list, and imagine how much life would be different if some of these didn’t exist.

  • Automated Teller Machine – The ATM is a standard part of everyday life, and is probably one of the most used machines on the planet. Without these machines, many of the standard banking practices that people take for granted today would be far more difficult. While there is some discrepancy as to the company that put the first machine into action, most feel that it was IBM that helped to perfect the machine and to ensure that it got the widespread use that it deserved, and that they were certainly the creators of the first modern ATM – the IBM 2984. This was first in use at Lloyd’s Bank in England. It was actually designed specifically at the request of Lloyd’s Bank. Some of these types of ATMs found their way to banks in the US. Other popular models include the IBM 3614 and the IBM 3624.
  • DRAM – Dynamic Random Access Memory is another invention that owes its origins to IBM. Arnold Farber and Eugene Schlig were working for the company at the time, and they created a “hard-wired” memory cell. This evolved to a 16-bit silicon memory chip created a year later. Then, in 1966, Dr. Robert Dennard, who was working at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center at IBM created DRAM.
  • Electronic Keypunch – Companies have been using different methods to help them keep track of their employees’ time since the dawn of the workplace. This was often a difficult task prone to error on the part of the employee or the employer. The company created the first electronic keypunch in 1923, called the Type 011 Electric Keypunch. This enabled more accurate tracking of an employee and was quickly embraced by a number of different companies around the country. They continued to innovate in this area and were able to bring a number of other models to the market over the years, including the Type 016 Motor-Driven Electric Duplicating Keypunch in 1929, the Type 31 Alphabetical Duplicating Punch in 1933, and the Type 32 Duplicating Punch in 1933.
  • Floppy disk – The floppy disk, also called a diskette, is another place where IBM excelled. While there were 8” disks created in the 1960s, IBM brought their “Type 1 Diskette” to market in 1973. While they had a very limited storage capacity by today’s standards, they were perfect for the machines of the day. However, it started to become clear that there were some issues with the capacity as time wore on. IBM created the 1.2 MB dual-sided floppy, and continued to innovate and create in the area. Eventually, the standard 5.25” disks were transplanted by the 3.5” disks which remained popular through the late 80s and into the 90s. CDs, which had a far greater capacity, soon replaced them.
  • Hard Disk Drive – All of the computing devices that you have, from a desktop to a smartphone, make use of a hard disk drive in some capacity. The data storage device holds and allows for the retrieval of data, and it is able to retain that data, even after turning off the system. IBM actually introduced the HDDs in 1956, and they were soon one of the top storage devices used in computers. Over the years, IBM, as well as a number of other companies, strived to make the hard drive better and more efficient. While IBM is not really a typical HDD manufacturer for many consumer products, they do have a number of disk storage solutions for companies.
  • Magnetic Stripe Card – While magnetic recording on steel tape had been around since WWII, it was IBM that took that innovation a step further. In 1960, they were the first to adhere the magnetic strip to a plastic card. They did this initially for the US government to create a security system. They also supplied the cards to financial institutions. Without their work, people may not have credit cards and debit cards in their wallets today, and it may have been much more of a hassle to use that automated teller machine mentioned at the top of this list. Over the years, these have become more complicated, but they are all essentially recorded magnetic strips on plastic cards.
  • SABRE Airline Reservation System – Have you ever booked an airline reservation? If you have, then there’s a chance that you used the SABRE system, although you probably didn’t realize it. This system, which stands for Semi-Automated Business Research Environment, stemmed from an odd meeting. An IBM salesman named Blair Smith was traveling to NY from Los Angeles after having a meeting with the US Air Force for a project called SAGE, Semi Automatic Ground Environment. It was a system that would use a number of large computers to coordinate messages from radar stations to interceptors, which would improve the capability of the Air Force to counter incoming bombers. Sitting next to Blair on the flight was C.R. Smith, who happened to be the president of American Airlines.

The system that IBM was working on for the government would also work well for American Airlines to assist with their booking. It would be possible to buy tickets and have the information and booking handled without needing to be on the phone. It would also ensure that there was no overbooking on a flight, as the system would be able to account for all of the seats on the plane. The first experimental system started up in 1960, and by 1964, SABRE was handling all of the booking. Today, the system works for more than just airlines. Many hotels, car rental facilities and tour operators make use of it.

  • Scanning Tunneling Microscope – Developed in 1981 at IBM in Zurich by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, this device is based on the theory of quantum tunneling. It doesn’t use light or electron beams. Rather, it uses an ultrafine tip as a means to examine the atomic and molecular details of a surface. This offers the closest atomic examination and manipulation. The device is capable of working in a vacuum, as well as in water, air, and a variety of different types of liquids and gases, which has proven to make the STM even more useful over the years. The innovation proved important enough that it was actually able to garner the inventors a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986.
  • Universal Product Code – Nearly every product that you buy has a UPC code on it. This is the barcode that cashiers will scan when they are trying to find the price of an item. The barcodes are unique to the item, and they are in use in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and a number of other countries around the world. The reason for the creation of the barcode was simplicity. The Uniform Grocery Product Code Council was a group of trade associations in the grocery field that were looking for a better way to track products. They met with a number of companies to help them solidify their idea, and they chose a proposal from IBM’s George J. Laurer. The system proved to be extremely effective, and it was first put into action on June 26, 1974. It’s hard to believe that the UPC is still a relatively new invention. The first item that went through the scanner was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum, of all things.
  • Virtual Machine – IBM create the CP/CMS, which were the first systems that actually allowed full virtualization for machine. Their first version, the CP-40, was really the first step in this direction. They worked on this in 1967, and between ’67 and ’72, they created the CP/CMS. These were the first in a long line of virtual machines for IBM, and they were the first part of the VM family, which is still going strong. They are in use on a number of IBM systems including the System/370, System/390, zSeries, and System Z.
  • Watson Artificial Intelligence – One of the most interesting creations to come from the IBM labs is undoubtedly Watson, the artificially intelligent computer. The system is capable of answering questions asked in natural language. The name of the system actually comes from the last name of the first man to become IBM’s CEO, Thomas J. Watson. The machine came from DeepQA, a research team in IBM led by David Ferrucci. Of course, many remember Watson fondly from the time the computer spent on the popular game show Jeopardy. The AI machine competed against two of the former winners on the show, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. Over the course of play, Watson actually won.

During the show, Watson was able to access a whopping 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content. This took up 4 TB of disk storage. However, the computer was not connected to the Internet during the game. While Watson did well, and was able to answer a number of questions – not to mention beating the other players to the buzzer most of the time – it did have some difficulties. Namely, it had trouble with shorter questions, which did not always give it enough information from which it could base answers.

Watson was far more than just a game show gimmick though. A few years later, the software system used in Watson became used to help aid with decisions for lung cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The nurses in the field are actually following the advice the AI machine is giving them.

The creations on this list are just a small part of what IBM has brought to the table since the company first formed all the way back in 1911. They have consistently been one of the companies to innovate and push the envelope when it comes to technology, and it does not seem as though that will change anytime soon.