In the early days of computers, they were seen as a means of improving the speed and accuracy of performing mathematical calculations – rather as new and improved calculating machines. IBM dominated the computer world at that time and employed John Backus to produce an improved language to supersede assembly language.

The result, finalized in 1957, was Fortran. This was the first high-level language to gain widespread acceptance. Its claim to fame was that it could evaluate mathematical formulas. This gave rise to its name ‘FORmula TRANslation’ (originally ‘IBM Mathematical Formula Translating System’).

Fortran has instructions built-in to handle most scientific formulas such as finding the sine of an angle which would be extremely difficult to do in assembly language. Difficult, but not impossible. After all, the Fortran program must first be converted into the machine code understood by the microprocessor. If the Fortran program can be converted to machine code, then it follows that the program could have been written in machine code in the first case. Its just a matter of saving an enormous amount of work.

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