Today we’re going to be learning about historical computing machines. Now, computers like we know today with your electronic laptops and cell phones and everything aren’t just electronic, but really anything that can compute a value, whether it be mechanical, electrical, or even biological. What we’re looking at here is a piece of what is considered one of the oldest computing machines that we know of the Antikythera mechanism. It was discovered in 1900 off the coast of a Greek island called Antikythera and really is puzzled scientists for quite some time. It was believed to have originated around 100 BCE, but little was known about its origin. But however, from the detailed gears and inscriptions on the piece itself, we can actually deduce what it is actually used for. As you learned in the video, the Antikythera mechanism was an early computer used to calculate the position of the sun, moon and planets in the sky, as well as important dates and eclipses. Now, after this period of time, it wasn’t until the 14th century that mechanisms of this complexity were ever seen again, though this was completely beyond its time in terms of technology.
The Abacus is another early example of a competing machine that you’ve probably seen and heard of, or maybe even used. They’re now used a lot as a children’s toy. But this is an example of a Chinese Abacus. With a little bit of technique and training, this device allows the user to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even the calculation of squares and cube roots at pretty high speed once you get used to it. But even with that, this machine still has a still has some room for human error, which is really what the the crutch of a lot of these devices are.
But moving forward a few hundred years, in the early 1600s, the slide rule was invented. It uses a sliding set of logarithmic scales, and allows the user to calculate all sorts of values from simple multiplication to logarithms and even trig functions. And for students studying engineering through the 1960s it was the tool of choice for those calculations needed until the calculator or the electronic calculator started to catch on and become small enough and useful enough for it to pretty much overtake everything else that we have used so far. Even though the slide rule is this simple device, it was used for even things like the Apollo 13 launch and if you’ve ever watched Apollo 13 before you can kind of see through this particular clip of the slide rule being used to verify some calculations.