Jürgen Schmidhuber's page on

KONRAD ZUSE (1910-1995)

Inventor of first working programmable computer (Z3, 1941)

See also:

J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2021). 80th anniversary celebrations: 1941: Konrad Zuse completes the first working general-purpose computer, based on his 1936 patent application.

J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2021). 80. Jahrestag: 1941: Konrad Zuse baut ersten funktionalen Allzweckrechner, basierend auf der Patentanmeldung von 1936.

J. Schmidhuber (2021). Der Mann, der den Computer erfunden hat. (The man who invented the computer.) Weltwoche, Nr. 33.21, 19 August 2021. PDF.

1935-1938: Konrad Zuse builds Z1, world's first program-controlled computer. Despite certain mechanical engineering problems it had all the basic ingredients of modern machines, using the binary system and today's standard separation of storage and control. Zuse's 1936 patent application (Z23139/GMD Nr. 005/021) also suggests a von Neumann architecture (re-invented in 1945) with program and data modifiable in storage.

1941: Zuse completes Z3, world's first fully functional programmable computer.

1945: Zuse describes Plankalkuel, world's first higher-level programming language, containing many standard features of today's programming languages. FORTRAN came almost a decade later. Zuse also used Plankalkuel to design world's first chess program.

1946: Zuse founds world's first computer startup company: the Zuse-Ingenieurbüro Hopferau. Venture capital raised through ETH Zürich and an IBM option on Zuse's patents.

Note: Jacquard and others built the first program-controlled machines (punch card-based looms) in France around 1800. Babbage (UK, around 1840) planned but was unable to build a non-binary, decimal, programmable computer. The binary ABC (US, 1942) of Atanasoff (of Bulgarian origin, "father of tube-based computing" - see comment on Nature 468, 760-761) and Eckert and Mauchly's decimal ENIAC (US, 1945/46) were special purpose calculators, in principle like those of Schickard, (1623), Pascal (1640) and Leibniz (1670), though faster (with tubes instead of gears; today we use transistors). None of these machines was freely programmable. Neither was Turing et al.'s Colossus (UK, 1943-45) used to break the Nazi code. The first programmable machine built by someone other than Zuse was Aiken's MARK I (US, 1944) which was still decimal, without separation of storage and control.
Schickard Leibniz Babbage Kurt Goedel Turing
In 1970, Peter's renowned atlas of world history already listed Zuse among the century's 30 most important figures, along with Einstein, Gandhi, Hitler, Lenin, Roosevelt, Mao, Picasso, etc. A collection of Zuse's writings and pictures of his machines can be found in this online archive.

Correspondence by J. Schmidhuber to Nature and Science on Zuse, Schickard, Leibniz, Babbage, Atanasoff, Gödel, Turing, Aiken...:

Science, vol 1638, p 1639, June 2012. Plus comment on response by Hodges.

Nature vol 483, p 541, 29 March 2012.

Nature 441 p 25, May 2006. Full text.

Nature 429 p 501, June 2004. Full text.

See also comment on Nature 468, 760-761.

Schmidhuber's law: computer history speed-up


Berlin not only was the unfortunate center of two world wars and the cold war (1914-1989), but also the origin of quantum physics (Planck, 1900), general relativity (Einstein, 1915), transistor (Lilienfeld, 1920s), and program- controlled computer (Zuse, 1935-1941).
1949: Wilkes und Renwick complete EDSAC (Cambridge, UK). Program and data both modifiable in storage, as suggested in Zuse's 1936 patent application, but not implemented in Z1-Z3.

1950: Despite having lost many years of work through the destruction of Berlin, Zuse leases world's first commercial computer (the Z4) to ETHZ, several months before the sale of the first UNIVAC.

1967: Zuse is the first to suggest that the universe itself is running on a grid of computers (digital physics); 1969 he publishes the book "Rechnender Raum" (Computing Space); in the new millennium such wild ideas have suddenly started to attract a lot of attention (e.g., see the "everything" archive).