The world of programming has come a long way since the first programming language was invented. But, how was the first programming language programmed? Was it really programmed, like in the contemporary sense of programming? Was some ancient hieroglyphical input used? Or was it some alien-type invention?
Let’s take a crack into it.
Programming languages are a set systematic inputs that humans use to construct technical instructions for computers. Since the invention of computers, humans have been giving instructions to computer, and using them to carry out functions.
The first programming language was created in the mid-1800s by an English mathematician named Ada Lovelace. Ada Lovelace is often credited as the world’s first computer programmer due to her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, an early mechanical general-purpose computer. The Analytical Engine was designed to perform mathematical calculations and had the potential to be programmed to perform other tasks as well.
Ada Lovelace worked closely with Charles Babbage and was intrigued by the possibilities of the Analytical Engine. She understood that the machine could be programmed to perform a variety of tasks beyond basic mathematical calculations. To make this possible, she had to create a set of instructions that the machine could understand and execute.
Ada Lovelace began by creating a system of punch cards to input data and commands into the Analytical Engine. She then worked on creating a program that could be used to calculate Bernoulli numbers (a complex sequence of numbers that arise in mathematical analysis). This program, which she called the “note G”, was essentially the first computer program ever written.
To program the Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace used a notation system that was based on the binary system. This system only used two digits – 0 and 1. Her notation system used letters to represent binary digits, and this system was later adopted as the basis for the programming language used by early computers.
The programming language used by early computers was known as machine language, and it was a low-level programming language that was specific to a particular computer architecture. Machine language instructions were written in binary code, and these instructions were executed directly by the computer’s hardware.
Although machine language was the first programming language, it was not very user-friendly, and it was challenging to write programs in machine language. Programmers had to write each instruction in binary code, which was time-consuming and prone to errors.
To make programming easier, higher-level programming languages were developed. These languages allowed programmers to write instructions using English-like statements, making programming much more accessible to people without a background in computer science.
The first high-level programming language was FORTRAN, which was developed in the late 1950s by IBM. FORTRAN, which stands for FORmula TRANslation, was designed to be used for scientific and engineering applications and was much easier to use than machine language, although, it might not seem so easy when compared with the programming languages used nowadays.
FORTRAN was followed by COBOL, another high-level programming language that was designed for business applications. COBOL stands for Common Business Oriented Language, and it was used extensively in the banking industry and other business sectors.
Around the time when COBOL and FORTRAN were created, several other programming languages were also in use. Some of these languages are still in use today, while others have fallen out of favour. Few of the programming languages that were developed around the same time as COBOL and FORTRAN include:
- PL/I (Programming Language One)
- Assembly Language, etc.
These programming languages were developed between the 50s and 60s. Each language had its own strengths and weaknesses and was designed to be used for specific types of programming tasks. Today, there are hundreds of programming languages available, each with its own set of features and applications.