Top 10 UK contributions to IT

14 Sep 2012

From computer games to the internet, this small country has given a lot

Although it's fair to say that UK companies don't dominate the tech industry in the same way that American, Japanese and Korean companies do, that's not to say that our small island nation hasn't played a big part in creating and shaping the world as we know it.

In fact, a large part of life today wouldn't be the same if it weren't for British inventors, designers and entrepreneurs. Our bolt isn't completely shot, either, as we continue to contribute and evolve the tech world.

While there are a lot of people and companies that have and currently work in the IT industry, this is our list of the ones that we think have made the biggest impact.


All computers use the base-2 binary numeral system, where all component data is composed of individual bits of 0s and 1s. This rather simplistic system allows incredibly complicated applications and algorithms to be created, but underneath it all the engineers and low-level programmers have to understand the logic that controls this.

Step forwards, George Boole who created Boolean logic in the 1840s. This system is defined as a "logical calculus of truth values". To put it another way, Boolean logic defines statements as either true (1) or false (0). So, a hundred years before the first digital computer, the logic system was created.

Boolean logic is evident in every part of technology. Logic gate diagrams and truth maps are all used to plan circuits, while Boolean expressions are a key part of any programming language. In effect, then, George Boole devised the language of computers, before

George Boole

100 years before the first computer, George Boole devised the logic system that's still used today


Although Charles Babbage designed the first computer, the Difference Engine, back in 1822 (his wife, Ada Lovelace, was arguably the first programmer), it was never built in his life time. Instead, the plaudits for the first actual computer must go to Tommy Flowers.

While working at Bletchley Park during the war, Flowers designed Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic computer, to break the German Lorenz cipher. Colossus was incredibly fast and could break the first part of the cipher (the chi setting) in less than 30 minutes. Later it was discovered that the computer could also be used for wheel breaking, which was the second part of breaking the code.

Sadly, after the war Colossus was broken down and kept a secret, so details of how it worked was not widely known. As such, it had little impact on the development of computers and modern computers are evolved from subsequent projects. However, the idea of Colossus helped everything.

Once this computer had been built, it was known that a high-speed electronic computer could be made reliably. It was this information that helped push the development of subsequent computers, so the importance of Colossus on the modern world should not be overlooked.


Tommy Flowers built the world's first programmable computer during the war to break the German Lorenz code


It took until the late 70s and early 80s before computers were finally ready for mass-market use at home, but the UK really grabbed the opportunity by the horns. In a short period of time, we saw the launch of the BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC 464 – all of them incredibly popular in their own right.

While these computers saw limited success outside of the UK, with the US favouring its own brands, the impact of these computers shouldn't be ignored. By giving UK consumers their first taste of home computers and gave people their first platform to program on.

It's these initial computers that gave a lot of people in the UK their first taste of computers and has led to later success in a lot of fields.

ZX Spectrum 48K

The Spectrum was just one of the many UK home computers that helped a generation learn new skills

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