# The History of Ancient Computers

### Understanding the importance behind some of history's most important inventions

This article was previously posted on my Mirror here:

As we look to the future and think of new ways to make life easier, it is important to understand where these technologies came from. This article will highlight key inventions and moments, some of which are often overlooked.

**Introduction: What are Ancient Computers?**

Computers are an essential part of our modern world, but they didn't always exist. In fact, the first computers were created thousands of years ago. Ancient computers were used to perform simple tasks like keeping track of time or helping with navigation. While ancient computers may seem primitive by today's standards, they were actually quite sophisticated for their time and important in the development of modern computing.

**History of Computing: Sumerian Tablets and Mechanical Devices**

The history of computing is often said to begin with the Sumerian abacus, a device used for counting and mathematical calculations. However, there are many other ancient machines that could be considered the first computers. These include mechanical devices like the Antikythera mechanism and the astronomical clocks of the 14th century.

The first computers were created to help humans perform tasks that would otherwise be too difficult or time-consuming. For example, the abacus was used to calculate large sums and the Antikythera mechanism was likely used to predict astronomical events. Astronomical clocks allowed people to tell time more accurately and plan their activities around the movements of the sun, moon, and stars.

*The Antikythera mechanism is an Ancient Greek hand-powered orrery, described as the oldest example of an analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses decades in advance.*

These early computers were important because they helped humans to understand and control their environment in new ways. They also laid the foundation for modern computing devices and technologies.

‘Human computers’ were the first computers to be used for computation. Traders in ancient Mesopotamia, who lived between 4000 and 3000 BC, used punch cards as early as 4000 BC. These punch cards were used to keep track of inventory. Some historians believe that the use of punch cards was one of the first recorded uses of a computer by humans.The Sumerians (who lived between 5500 and 4000 BC) are credited with being the first people to develop a fully functional "mechanical" computer. This device had several specialized parts and could calculate square roots, reciprocals, logarithms and trigonometric functions. It was powered by water wheels and weights which had pulleys at each end that moved along cords when pulled by a person.The ancient Greeks are also credited with inventing the "punch-card" computer dating from 400 BC. A piece of cardboard with a hole at one end was placed in a frame and could be moved around to punch holes into the card. The card was removed, and the holes punched represented figures or symbols which could then be added up by counting.

*An example of a slide rule calculator.*

Advancements continued apace during the Renaissance and early modern times when Europe developed a number of different types of calculators that used sliding mechanisms to perform simple arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. An early example of this type is the slide rule, invented in 15th century Germany. The slide rule replaced hand calculation by utilizing logarithmic scales on a telescoping metal ruler. The basic principle of these devices is still in use today. The first slide-rule calculator was patented in 1589 by William Oughtred, an English mathematician who had worked on the construction of the geometrical slide rule. He described a rudimentary arithmetic calculator that consisted of two scales: one for addition and the other for subtraction.

During the 17th century, advances in clockwork technology made it possible to build mechanical calculators that could also perform trigonometry and logarithmic calculations. In 1622, John Napier developed what is now considered to be the first mechanical calculating device which he called Napier's Bones. This consisted of a set of gears with a number of teeth on the periphery which were stepped by a clockwork mechanism. The gears transformed rotating shafts at their inner circumference into accurately defined integers. This device formed the basis of further mechanical calculating devices throughout the 17th century, including Thomas Harriot's Engine, invented in 1624 and George Hadley's Engine (1642) and Richard Arkwright's Engine (1766). In addition to the gears and clockworks, these early calculating machines used an arithmetical stack of wooden discs that slid along a piece of wire that had been wrapped around an axle—hence their name "wire wheels". Through its ingenious use of multiple gears, Napier's Bones was considerably more efficient than earlier devices.

*Napier's bones. Using the multiplication tables embedded in the rods, multiplication can be reduced to addition operations and division to subtractions.*

In 1760, John Joseph Merlin invented one of the first mechanical calculators based on the invention of John Napier, but it was too complex for practical use. In 1867, American scientist Charles Babbage designed an even more powerful calculating machine called the Difference Engine—never built—that was intended to be capable of mathematical calculations of up to 100 digits. As Babbage's ideas fell further and further behind their anticipated timeline, he became more and more frustrated with his predicament until his death in 1871.

In 1876 Prussian-born mathematician Gottfried Leibniz made the first binary number system calculating device that could add numbers in a second operation while continuously performing subtraction operations, thus making it possible to perform basic arithmetical operations by hand rather than by mechanical means. Leibniz, who is sometimes called the "inventor of binary", created a precursor to modern computing machines.

**The Potentiometer**

In 1833, English scientist and inventor Charles Wheatstone invented the potentiometer, a device that would go on to have a profound impact on the development of computers.

The potentiometer was a simple electrical device that could be used to measure voltage. It was an important step in the development of electrical measuring devices, and it paved the way for the development of more sophisticated devices like the voltmeter and ammeter.

The invention of the potentiometer was a key step in the development of computers. The first computers were large, expensive, and difficult to use. They were also slow and unreliable. The potentiometer made it possible to build smaller, more reliable computers. This made it possible for more people to use computers, and for more businesses to adopt them.

The potentiometer is still used in modern computers. It is a vital component of computer hardware, and it is used in many different types of electronic devices.

**Charles Babbage and the Analytical Engine**

*The Analytical Engine. An early general purpose computer that was never completed.*

Charles Babbage is often considered to be the father of the computer. He designed a machine called the Analytical Engine in the early 1800s, which was a mechanical calculator that could be programmed to perform any calculation that could be done by hand. While the machine was never completed, Babbage's design was influential in the development of later computers. The Electronic Computer. The late 20th century saw the development of computers with vastly greater processing capabilities than Babbage's Analytical Engine. By the early 1960s, machines were available that could perform any calculation that could be done by hand. These computers can be considered to be the predecessors to modern computers.

**John Vincent Atanasoff and the ABC Computer**

*Conventionally, the ABC would be considered the first electronic ALU (arithmetic logic unit) which is integrated into every modern processor's design.*

John Vincent Atanasoff is credited as the inventor of the first electronic computer, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC). Although the ABC was never completed or used for computation, Atanasoff's design laid the foundation for modern computers. The ABC was developed during the early 1930s at Iowa State University. Atanasoff and his graduate student, Clifford Berry, worked on the project for several years. However, funding for the project dried up and the ABC was never completed. Despite this, Atanasoff's design was influential in the development of subsequent computers. The ABC was one of the first computers to use electronic switches and capacitors for storage, which are still basic components of computers today.

**The Wonders of the 1900s: The integrated circuit, microprocessors, and RAM**

*An example of a Cray supercomputer from the 1980s.*

The Integrated Circuit. In the 1970s, components called integrated circuits (ICs) were developed that made possible microchips and other systems that could be produced in quantity at low cost. Today's personal computer, for example, is made up of hundreds of ICs, each containing millions of transistors and millions more connections between those transistors.

Microprocessors and Memory Chips. In the 1980s and ' 90s, the microprocessor emerged as a powerful and versatile tool for controlling computers. Modern computer memory stores information in a rapidly changing pattern of microscopic magnetic domains within tiny coils of insulated wire inside the chips, which are fabricated from polysilicon or silicon carbide material. Incredible, right?

The Supercomputer. By the 1990s, advances in integrated circuit technology enabled scientists to design and fabricate enormous computers called ‘supercomputers’, with many thousands of processors working together to solve problems that could not be solved on conventional computers. A supercomputer today can perform 1 million billion calculations per second (1 peta-byte) or more. Supercomputers have been used to perform scientific research, simulate how weather systems will move and track the behavior of missiles and missiles in flight, forecast the weather, simulate financial markets, predict the movement of glaciers and earthquakes, analyze stock market data, solve complicated mathematical problems, find cures for diseases like AIDS, design new drugs, and assist in designing just about anything.

**Conclusion**

Ancient computers are some of the most fascinating and intriguing pieces of technology ever created. They provide a window into the past, and allow us to see how our ancestors viewed the world and how they attempted to understand and control their environment. They also give us insight into the minds of the people who created them, and help us to better appreciate the accomplishments of our predecessors.