Today we had to talk to computers in special code.
Machines had been “programmed” by various means since the 18th century, if not far earlier if you consider clocks were programmed by water and gravity, and then gears, or looms and player pianos used Jacquard cards and nubbed scrolls. Computational devices — computers — first ran on simple on/off switches to direct the path of work, or were literally hard-wired to calculate a certain way. This led to the development of machine language programs which literally told components what to do, and then assembly languages to direct the combination of these machine actions. The combination of these first and second generation languages programmed the computers of the early 1950s.
Then, on this day in 1955, FORTRAN, or The IBM Mathematical Formula Translating System, made its public debut. It relied on commanding algorithms to direct the function of a computer, thereby allowing for the construction of complicated and variable tasks. It was the first higher-level programming language, followed by LISP, COBOL and then, in the 1960s, APL and BASIC. The media for using these languages were punch cards in which logic commands were translated into digital code to be read by the older, simpler languages running the devices. Computers would communicate back with their programmers via simple statements that an error had occurred or, after time, codes that indicated where the problems happened. A Graphical User Interface, or GUI, that we use today to converse with computers (and makes possible the HTML programming language that affords communication across the Internet) didn’t come to be until the mid-1980s.
FORTRAN is a lot like Latin, then. One of the original languages of the Church.