Home This is a Computer

This is a Computer

Everyone knows what a computer is. It’s. Well. You. Come on. Let’s see. OK. An iPad. That’s a computer. And. So, there’s laptops. You get the idea. Electricity! That’s it. Definitely. And plastic.

But before electricity and before plastic humans still had the drive to create devices to help them think, to do some of the heavy lifting. It’s a very old impulse. So we rummaged around a bit and found a few of the tools without whose development, your most sophisticated tool for thinking would be your own fingers.

Abacus200 B.C.E. An early counting machine, originally developed in Rome, it is still used, especially in Asia.

Antikythera Mechanism150 B.C.E. A Greek mechanical calendar, it was probably used to calculate astronomical positions, holy days, or both.

Astrolabe400 C.E. Another Greek calculator, this one was used to figure latitude and to anticipate star positions.

Slide Rule17th century Developed in England, the slide rule primarily calculates multiplication and division of numbers.

Castle Clock12th century Built in Iraq, this is a water-powered astronomical clock, programmable to change the length of the day based on the seasons.

The Analytical Engine19th century The English mechanical precursor to the electronic computer, designed but not built until the 20th century.

There are many more devices, ancient and modern, that led to the computers we use today. This is just one selection. Have your own favorites? Let us know in the comments.

Abacus photo from Wikimedia Commons | Antikythera mechanism photo from Wikimedia Commons | slide rule photo by Gary Lauzon | water clock graphic from Muslim Heritage

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