Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Calculating the Future!

I recently saw the new movie The Imitation Game! It was extremely interesting, and the performances were definitely "Oscar'worthy". It got me to thinking about any computer-like machines from the Age of Enlightenment, and certainly I found some interesting information.

In 1709, an Italian, Giovanni Poleni, was the firs to build a calculator. It used a pinwheel design, like a clock.

In 1725, the French Academy of Sciences  certified a calculating machine that was designed by Lepine, a French craftsman. Though it was not very efficient, and jammed beyond a few calculations, it was another step forward.

In 1727, German engineer Antonius Braun, presented a machine to Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. It had four functions, cylindrical in shape, made from steel, silver and brass. The dedication read, "to make easy to ignorant people, addition, subtraction, multiplication and even division". Not terribly politically correct, but probably most true.

In 1730, three machines were certified by the French Academy. Designed by Hillerin de Boistinssandeau, it used a single tooth carry mechanism to move more than two places. Again, a flawed machine.

In 1770, Philipp Matthaus Hahn, German, built a machine based on a circular premise, making it easier to work.

In 1775, Lord Stanhope of England made a pinwheel machine. Set in a box with a handle on the side. In 1777, he produced the Logic Demonstrator, that solved problems using formal logic. This was the first of its kind.

In 1784, Joann Helfrich Muller (1746-1830) became one of the early engineers to develop a sophisticated mechanical calculator. He had a creative mind and started making inventions of this sort from the early 1770's. He was asked by the local superintendent's office to check and recalculate some tables relating to the volumes of trees. So, to shorten the task, he invented a machine. Soon he realized that he could perform subtraction, division, etc with it as well. He turned to his colleague Phillip Hahn to see how this machine could be further improved.

Müller's calculating machine is very similar to the machine of Hahn, but it is larger (285 mm diameter, 95 mm height, weight 15.4 kg). It was in the form of a round box with a handle placed centrally and the number wheels concentrically arranged around the handle. It could calculate with 14 figures and its number and gear wheels could be altered to enable it to operate with non-decimal number systems.Müller intended also to use his machine for calculating of tables. He wrote "How easy it would be, by this means, to correct and extend the tables of logarithms". Later on Müller in fact used the machine to calculate a set of tables—"Tafeln des Kubischen Gehalts des Bauholzes", which was published in Frankfurt in 1788 (see the lower image). In another letter to Lichtenberg from 9th of September 1784, Müller recorded a new thought in a postscript for a printing tabulating machine.

Over the century, the great minds were on the right track. Who would have thought that the calculator would eventually add enough functions to become the computers of our times. Not only to calculate, but store and transfer information, not only for mathematics, but these days, to virtually see and communicate with the world from our desk top.

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