## Origin of Computers

A modern Middle Eastern abacus.

When somebody says "computer," you think of the electronic devices that you use for work or for fun. You think about computer games and the Internet and the plethora of things that modern computers have to offer. But that is not the original meaning of the word. The original meaning for the word computer, which we have steadily changed and tweaked, meant "someone who computes." This goes back to the Stone Age, when cavemen tried, and eventually managed, to use their fingers and toes to count. But soon, humans had to count numbers that exceeded the amount of digits they had, so cavemen started to carve numbers onto bones to help them count. Archaeologists estimate that cavemen started doing so around 8,500 BC.

The first true "computer" made was the abacus (plural abaci), made between 1,000 and 500 BC. The abacus was a series of stones or beads on strings or sticks that could be slid up or down. Although relatively simple, the abacus helped people perform complex addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square root, and cubic root problems. The abacus was easy to use, and remained in use for more than a millennia. During the millennia and a half that the abacus was used, many different designs arose that included the Babylonian, Roman, Chinese (算盤; "Counting Tray"), Japanese (算盤; "Counting Tray"), Russian, American Indian, and School abaci. The abacus remained at the top for mathematics until Leonardo da Vinci made the world's first mechanical calculator in the year 1,500 AD. Leonardo da Vinci's mechanical calculator didn't last for nearly as long as the abacus, as Blaise Pascal upstaged da Vinci's creation with his own in 1642.

The first true "computer" made was the abacus (plural abaci), made between 1,000 and 500 BC. The abacus was a series of stones or beads on strings or sticks that could be slid up or down. Although relatively simple, the abacus helped people perform complex addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square root, and cubic root problems. The abacus was easy to use, and remained in use for more than a millennia. During the millennia and a half that the abacus was used, many different designs arose that included the Babylonian, Roman, Chinese (算盤; "Counting Tray"), Japanese (算盤; "Counting Tray"), Russian, American Indian, and School abaci. The abacus remained at the top for mathematics until Leonardo da Vinci made the world's first mechanical calculator in the year 1,500 AD. Leonardo da Vinci's mechanical calculator didn't last for nearly as long as the abacus, as Blaise Pascal upstaged da Vinci's creation with his own in 1642.

## Charles Babbage

A replica of the Babbage Analytical Engine.

It wasn't until the 19th century that an English mathematician named Charles Babbage laid out his plans for the Babbage Difference Machine, or BDM. Not only would Babbage's machine calculate, but it would also print mathematical tables. Unfortunately, Babbage never built such a device, although just thinking about building such a machine spread his name. In 1835, Babbage was once again laying out his plans for the Babbage Analytical Engine, or BAE, and he had hoped to use punch cards to program the it. With this new idea, Babbage caught the attention of Ada Byron Lovelace, who had an unrelenting passion for mathematics. Lovelace saw the BAE's potential to not only produce mathematical tables, but music and graphics as well, and she helped Babbage document how the BAE would calculate in Bernoulli numbers in 1843. For this, Lovelace was given credit for making the world's first computer program, and in 1979, the United State Department of Defense named a computer coding language in her honor. But like the Babbage Difference Machine, the Babbage Analytical Engine wasn't constructed until over a century later in the form of a replica derived from his paper-bound plans.

Nearly a hundred years later, the world's first modern (by our perception of the word) computer was constructed in 1939 by David Packard and Bill Hewlett. Hewlett and Packard together founded Hewlett-Packard (more commonly known as HP) in a Palo Alto, California garage. Their first creation was the HP 200A Audio Oscillator, which quickly became popular for engineers as testing equipment. When HP's 200B model came out, Walt Disney Pictures purchased eight to help create the sound effects used in the movie Fantasia. Hewlett-Packard's 200A model was the springboard and inspiration for generations and countless models of computers to come...