A BRIEF HISTORY OF COMPUTING
FROM CAVE WALLS TO WINDOWS 95
Not That This Is Necessarily Progress
The first human beings didn't need computers, because they had no
numbers. This was a big problem for parents, because they had no way to
control their children ("You kids stop that! I mean it! I'm going to
count to. . . um. . . to. . . YOU KIDS STOP THAT!").
By the Paleolithic Era, humans had discovered numbers; however, as we
see from the cave writing reproduced below, they had no idea what the
[picture depicting "Suck my 32" grafitto]
As you can imagine, these people sometimes took months to balance their
It was the ancient Egyptians who first figured out that numbers could,
if you added and subtracted them, be used to form mathematics; this made
it possible, for the first time, to build the pyramids as well as keep
score in bowling.
eventually reaching the ancient Greeks, who invented the cosine. The
Greeks also produced the great thinker Pythagoras, who discovered that
the tip equals 15 percent.
although not all of us view this as a good thing.
Very Early Computers
Some archeologists believe that Stonehenge - the mysterious arrangement
of enormous elongated stones in England - is actually a crude effort by
the Druids to build a computing device. This theory is based on the fact
that the stones, when viewed from above, form a distinct pattern, as we
see in the following aerial photograph:
[picture depicting "Enter Password" aerial view]
Around the same time the Chinese invented the abacus, a wooden frame
with colored beads on strings that can be used to perform rapid
mathematical computations. In the first practical use of the new
technology, a Chinese merchant totaled up a sale on an abacus, which
indicated that the customer owed the equivalent of $297 million for a
pound of rice. This led to the invention of two key data-processing
expressions that are still widely used by businesses today:
"We haven't worked out all the bugs."
"Can you come back later? Our abacus is down."
Over the ensuing centuries, inventors continued to tinker with computing
machines. In 1593 the brilliant German mathematician Klaus Von
Fochenstrudel built a device that employed two knobs, which activated a
series of gears and levers, which in turn controlled a stylus that left
a record of its movements in the form of marks drawn in a tray of sand;
after each session these marks could be erased by simply shaking the
tray to smooth the sand. This invention turned out to be completely
useless for computing, but it ultimately led to the Etch-a-Sketch.
ON FRIDAY: The First Modern Computer