Digital Calculators - Then and Now The electronic digital computer first appeared in the middle 1940s.Then, it was a specialized calculating tool of mathematicians and scientists. Today, it is helping to solve information problems in almost every area of human activity. The computer now can be used to print bank statements, as well as calculate astronomical tables. It can be used to compare the writing styles of two poets, as well as compare the performances of two chemical processes. It helps creative artists, as well as builders of bridges or buildings. This revolution in computer use parallels to some extent an earlier evolution from simple manual counting tools to mechanized data processing machines. Some of the basic principles embodied in early mechanized calculators, as well as the problems they were designed to solve, help to explain the significance of the modern digital computer and the recent rocket-like rise in its use as a general problem-solving tool. [image] In the beginning It's usually assumed that man developed the concept of number and counting before he developed an effective written language of words. His first records were primitive accounting and inventory records of grain, animals and possessions, recorded with sticks, pebbles or scratches on cave walls. But his need for information and communications gradually outstripped the capability of these simple tools. So he invented new and better tools: first the abacus and, later, faster mechanical and electrical counting and information-handling aids. These were the forerunners of today's electronic digital computers. The Abacus The first digital calculator, the abacus, is really a mechanized form of pebble-counting. Beads, sliding on wires, substitute for the pebbles. Five beads below a wooden bar are units; each bead above is worth five. Numbers are represented by pushing beads against the bar. The wires or columns, starting at the right, represent place value: units, tens, hundreds, etc., just as our decimal arithmetic columns do. The abacus first appeared in the Near East and China about 2,ooo years ago and it is still being used in parts of Asia. [image] Left, early Egyptian numerical symbols. Above, an abacus similar to those used for rapid calculation in the Orient since the thirteenth century. Facing page, top, French mathematician Blaise Pascal's Arithmetic Machine, invented in 1642. Below, a nineteenth-century Jacquard loom, controlled with punched cards. Reprinted from the booklet More About Computers with permission of IBM. Copyright 1974 by International Business Machines Corp.