Most important computer code ever written

Even before the first computer was invented people have been writing code. Code has helped us land on the Moon and is helping us understand and map the human DNA. In everyday life code lands airplanes, drives trains and makes our roads safer.

But what was the most important code ever written? At Component Creator we know about important code. With more than 50,000 developers using our service to write code that (at least according to some of the support tickets we get) is extremely important to their owners.

However, we believe that throughout history there has been code written that was slightly more important than your latest Joomla component.

We took a vote and came up with this list of the top 10 most important code ever written.

When: 1842
What: The world’s first computer program

Although not strictly code as we know it today, Ada Lovelace is often credited as the first person ever to write computer program. Lovelace was the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, the English poet. Ada was taught mathematics, which was unusual at the time, because her mother was trying to drive out any insanity that may have come from Lord Byron!

So how did she manage to write code at such an early date? Well, one of the first ever computers was designed by Charles Babbage during Ada Lovelace’s time. Babbage set out to build a machine that was capable of doing a variety of mathematical calculations correctly every time.

This Analytical Engine could be programmed using punch cards. This would allow someone to use the machine over and over again, without having to manually configure the machine every time they wanted to do some operation.

There is evidence that Ada Lovelace was the one that suggested this idea to Babbage. Ada Lovelace was impressed by Babbage’s Analytical Engine and between 1842 and 1843 she translated an article by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea covering the engine. She then supplemented the article with notes of her own. In these added notes, she included the world’s first computer program that would use the machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers and has since been shown to be a valid algorithm that would have run correctly.

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When: 1943
What: The world's first programmable electronic computer

Colossus was the name of a series of computers developed by British codebreakers in 1943-1945 to help in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Colossus used thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) and thyratrons to perform Boolean and counting operations. Colossus is regarded as the world's first programmable, electronic, digital computer, although it was programmed by plugs and switches and not by a stored program. It had no internally stored programs, so to set it up for a new task, the operator had to set up plugs and switches to alter the wiring and create new “code”.

Colossus was designed by research telephone engineer Tommy Flowers to solve a problem posed by mathematician Max Newman at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. Alan Turing's use of probability in cryptanalysis contributed to its design.

Before the Colossus machine was built it took the Allies up to six hours to decode a message and a day or more to pore over intelligence, draw conclusions, and pass along information to military command.

After Colossus, the Allies gained a clear picture of German military activity across the English Channel as the events unfolded. Colossus decoded the intelligence that gave Dwight D Eisenhower the confidence to launch the D-Day invasion. It is, arguably the greatest piece of software that never got written.

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Grace Hopper / first compiler

When: 1953
What: First Compiler Created

Grace Hopper (1906–1992) was a United States Navy Admiral and one of the first programmers in the history of computers. Hopper believed that programming languages should be as easy to understand as English. She was the main person behind the development of one of the first programming languages called COBOL. It is largely due to Grace Hopper’s influence that programmers use “if/thens” instead of 1s and 0s today.

In the 1950s, Grace worked for a company called Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as the senior mathematician on the team that was developing a new computer called UNIVAC I (UNIVersal Automatic Computer I). This computer went on to become the second commercial computer ever produced in the United States.

It was during this time that Hopper created the first Compiler. A compiler in computer programming is a program that transforms source code written from one computer language into another.

Having compilers allowed programmers to work at increasingly higher levels of abstraction. Projects that would have taken years prior to the advent of compilers, took months instead. Problems that would have seemed insurmountable, instead became hard.

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IBM 360 system

When: 1964
What: First general purpose computer operating system

Another example of great programming was IBM's 360 system. The software was written as the first general purpose computer operating system in 1964.

The result was the first computer system capable of running different applications at the same time. IBM was the first manufacturer to exploit microcode technology to implement a compatible range of computers of widely differing performance. This flexibility greatly lowered barriers to entry.

The 360 system was extremely successful in the market because it allowed customers to purchase a smaller system with the knowledge they would always be able to migrate upward if their needs grew, without reprogramming of application software or replacing peripheral devices. Many consider the design to be one of the most successful computers in history, influencing computer design for years to come. 

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An entry-level IBM System/360 system (red, middle of picture), tape drives to its left, and disk drives to its right


The Apollo space program computer software

When: 1969
What: Apollo Guidance Computer software takes first men on the moon

The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was a digital computer produced for the Apollo space program that was installed in both the Apollo Command and Lunar Module. The AGC provided computation and electronic interfaces for guidance, navigation, and control of the spacecraft.

Astronauts communicated with the AGC using a numeric display and keyboard called the DSKY. The AGC and its DSKY user interface were developed in the early 1960s for the Apollo program at MIT. The AGC is notable for being one of the first integrated circuit-based computers.

AGC software was written in AGC assembly language. The bulk of the software was on read-only rope memory and thus couldn't be changed in operation, but some key parts of the software were stored in standard read-write magnetic core memory and could be overwritten by the astronauts using the DSKY interface, as was done on Apollo 14.

The design principles developed for the AGC by Charles Draper, became foundational to software engineering, particularly for the design of more reliable systems that relied on asynchronous software, priority scheduling, testing, and human-in-the-loop decision capability

The command module flight which landed man on the moon was controlled by a software package called CORONA. In total, software development on the project comprised of 1400 person-years of effort, with a peak workforce of 350 people.

The Apollo Guidance Computer software influenced the design of Skylab, Space Shuttle and early fly-by-wire fighter aircraft systems.The AGC code was uploaded to the internet in 2003, and the software itself was uploaded by a former NASA intern to GitHub

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The morris worm

When: 1988
What: The first computer Virus distributed via the Internet

The morris worm was one of the first computer viruses distributed via the Internet. It was the first to gain significant mainstream media attention. It also resulted in the first felony conviction in the US under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It was written by a graduate student at Cornell University, Robert Morris, and launched on November 2 1988 from the computer systems of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

In 1988, the Morris worm raced around the Internet, infiltrating university servers and closing offices. Clifford Stoll, who helped fight the worm in 1989 said "I surveyed the network and found that two thousand computers had been infected within fifteen hours. These machines were dead in the water, useless until disinfected and removing the virus often took two days.”

Like most software, the worm theoretically could run in only one or two targeted environments, but it ended up illustrating something new about the Net. The worm could spread itself from server to server by exploiting a buffer overflow vulnerability in Sendmail.

As a piece of software, this virus was a breakthrough, an eye opening demonstration of what brilliant software might do on the anti-social side of the Internet. The U.S. Government put the cost of the damage caused by the worm at $100,000–10,000,000.

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The World Wide Web

When: 1989
What: World Wide Web invented

In 1988 English computer scientist Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet.

After graduating from Oxford University, Berners-Lee became a software engineer at CERN, the large particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists came from all over the globe to use its accelerators and Berners-Lee noticed that they were having difficulty sharing any information.

At this time, millions of computers were already being connected together through the fast developing Internet and Berners-Lee realised they could share information by exploiting the emerging technology of hypertext.

In March of 1989, Berners-Lee laid out his vision for what would become the Web in a document called “Information Management: A Proposal”. The Web was never an official CERN project, but Mike Sendall, Berners-Lee’s boss at Cern managed to give him time to work on the project.

By October of 1990, Berners-Lee had written the three fundamental technologies that remain the foundation of today’s Web:

HTML: HyperText Markup Language. The markup (formatting) language for the Web.

URI: Uniform Resource Identifier. A kind of “address” that is unique and used to identify to each resource on the Web. It is also commonly called a URL.

HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Allows for the retrieval of linked resources from across the Web.

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Deep Blue

When: 1997
What: AI computer beats the world chess champion

On May 11 1997, an IBM computer called Deep Blue beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov after a six-game match: two wins for Deep Blue, one for the champion and three draws. The match lasted several days and received massive media coverage around the world. It was the classic story of man vs. machine.

Deep Blue had an impact on computing in many different industries. It was programmed to solve the complex and strategic game of chess, so it enabled researchers to explore and understand the limits of massively parallel processing. The architecture used in Deep Blue was later applied to financial modeling, including marketplace trends and risk analysis; data mining and for uncovering hidden relationships and patterns in large databases.

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Curiosity Rover

When: 2012.
What: Curiosity lands on Mars without human intervention

Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26 2011, aboard the MSL spacecraft and landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6 2012. The Bradbury Landing site was less than 2.4 km from the center of the rover's touchdown target after a 563,000,000 km (350,000,000 mi) journey. Because of the distances involved it was not possible for the lander to be controlled by NASA technicians due to the time it took for instructions from earth to reach mars.

Although not the first rover to land on mars it was certainly the biggest and most complicated. It is essentially a 2000 pound (sojourner the first rover weighed 23 pounds) nuclear driven all terrain science lab with a lifespan of a minimum of 14 years.

The Piece of code which landed Curiosity on Mars without human intervention Is based on that of MER (Spirit and Opportunity), which were based off of their first lander, MPF (Sojourner). It's 3.5 million lines of C (much of it autogenerated), running on a RA50 processor

manufactured by BAE and the VxWorks Operating system. Over a million lines were hand coded.

The code is implemented as 150 separate modules, each performing a different function. Highly coupled modules are organized into Components that abstract the modules they contain, and specify either a specific function, activity, or behavior. These components are further organized into layers, and there are no more than 10 top-level components.

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Eugene Goostman

When: 2014
What: Computer passes Turing test

Eugene Goostman is a chatterbot developed in Russia in 2001 by a group of three programmers. Goostman is portrayed as a 13-year old Ukrainian boy whose characteristics are intended to induce forgiveness in those with whom it interacts for its grammatical errors and lack of general knowledge.

On 7 June 2014, at a contest marking the 60th anniversary of Turing's death, 33% of the event's judges thought that Goostman was human. (To pass the test successfully 30% of the judges had to be convinced the computer program was a human) Each judge partook in a textual conversation with the bot, as well as 5 other competitors and a real human. In all, a total of 300 conversations were conducted..

In event's organiser Kevin Warwick’s view, Goostman was the first machine to pass the Turing test. He stated that:

“Some will claim that the Test has already been passed. The words Turing Test have been applied to similar competitions around the world. However this event involved more simultaneous comparison tests than ever before, was independently verified and, crucially, the conversations were unrestricted. A true Turing Test does not set the questions or topics prior to the conversations.”

Turing himself predicted in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, that by the year 2000, machines would be capable of fooling 30% of human judges after five minutes of questioning.

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There are almost certainly other candidates for “most important code ever written” that belong on this list. If you think a piece of awesome code needs deserves a place on our list we would love to hear from you, you can add your choice in the comments below.

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