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Aaron Gaudette, 9th Grade, Ramstein High School, Ramstein AFB, Germany

The Innovation of Computers During World War II and Their Impact on My Life

You find yourself alone in a subway station, the wails of the metro echoing around the empty terminal. You blink your eyes, take a breath and walk forward toward the tracks. In a screech of metal against metal, an empty train stops in front of you, its doors rattling open. Walking inside, you sit down, as lonely as a ghost. You don't know where you're going, but you know there's an adventure ahead. The train quickly accelerates and you surrender yourself to fate.

This is the story of “Metro,” an award winning video game I designed. The game drops players into the role of a living person trapped in a subway system, allowed to ride trains, visit stations, and form their own evolving story in a completely first-person environment. The creation process allowed me to exercise my skills in computer programming, 3D art & design, writing, music composition, image editing, and most importantly, game development…all on a computer.

Computers have had an enormous impact on my life. I have always been fascinated by the many capabilities of a computer, including the capability to automate functions, the capability to develop and engineer useful software, the capability to virtualize interactive worlds, and the capability to connect and interface with large-scale networks. Technology as it stands today allows me to make my dreams come to life in video game design, as well as perform an almost limitless amount of simple operations previously regarded as difficult. I enjoy the freedom computers give me to put my ideas into practice, the connection they give me to the world, and the almost infinite potential for expansion they offer. But where did computers come from? How did computers become advanced enough so I could design my own interactive games, create digital art, and work in virtual 3D space? What is the basis of all this complexity, the foundation of all this extraordinary technology? It is ironic to think technology created during war for the purpose of destruction offers so much opportunity for creation. Some of the most amazing discoveries have been a result of research during wartime. World War II, along with the many conflicts that followed, prompted the development of much of what we find around us today, in particular, the computer.

The level of research and development that occurred during World War II was extremely beneficial to the computer's upbringing, the timeframe when computing became critical and the field received one of its largest kick-starts. Konrad Zuse, an innovator from Germany, built the “Z3” computer in 1941, the third of four in a line of computers he designed. Tommy Flowers from Britain was the prime engineer of the Colossus with the first prototype being built in 1943, becoming famous much later for its routine decryption of German transmissions. In 1944, the first American programmable digital computer, known as the Mark I, was designed and built from a partnership between Harvard and IBM to compute “firing tables” for United States battleships during the war. And in 1945, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, funded by the United States Army, designed and built “ENIAC” at the University of Pennsylvania.

Following World War II, computer research continued with fervor. UNIVAC machines were the first to be mass-produced, designed by ENIAC's creators, Mauchly and Eckert. Later, better technology was developed and IBM became the dominant computer distributor, paired with software developed by Microsoft. With the innovation of the microprocessor by Intel, users began to leverage personal computers that could be reprogrammed to complete a wide assortment of applications. These machines would eventually lead to what we recognize today as the modern computer. Tasks considered basic such as browsing the Internet, listening to music, or typing a document, are in reality highly complex computations performed by machines that took years upon years to design.

With the increased capabilities of today’s computers, users such as myself can automate millions of lower level functions. The computer allows me to do so many things, the least of which is to communicate on a global network. As a military child who moves frequently around the world, I appreciate the ability to efficiently contact people quickly and keep in touch with my family and friends through the Internet. Computers provide many features I use every day, they are unlimited file cabinets, calendars and organizers, providing storage for documents, software, and other media. The possibilities are endless.

One of my personal aspirations is to attend Carnegie Mellon University to study computer science and video game development. I strongly believe video game design is a high form of art, a medium where you can tell people a story, teach, learn, and even sometimes live in an interactive world. Video game development can also be used to create helpful software like military training simulations or interactive educational programs. Without the brilliant innovators and technological visionaries from the Second World War, none of this would be possible.

As your ride on the subway comes to a close, the train slows down and you stand up, ready to walk out into a new, unexplored station. With a steady bump, the metro stops on the tracks and sits idle, waiting to depart. Preparing to leave, you watch the doors open, hydraulics hissing. Committed, you stride out, ready to meet the future.

Great things are ahead.


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Student Travel – WWII Educational Tours
High school and college students, learn the leadership principles that helped win WWII on a trip to France or during a weeklong residential program in New Orleans. College credit is available, and space is limited.

See You Next Year! HS Yearbooks from WWII
Collected from across the United States, the words and pictures of these yearbooks present a new opportunity to experience the many challenges, setbacks and triumphs of the war through the eyes of America’s youth.

The Victory Gardens of WWII
Visit the Classroom Victory Garden Project website to learn about food production during WWII, find lesson plans and activities for elementary students, get tips for starting your own garden and try out simple Victory Garden recipes!

The Science and Technology of WWII
Visit our new interactive website to learn about wartime technical and scientific advances that forever changed our world. Incorporates STEM principles to use in the classroom.

Kids Corner: Fun and Games!
Make your own propaganda posters, test your memory, solve puzzles and more! Learn about World War II and have fun at the same time.

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