Tuesday, August 18, 2009

World's First Computer Rebuilt, Rebooted After 2000 Years

A British museum curator has built a working replica of a 2,000-year-old Greek machine that has been called the world's first computer.

A dictionary-size assemblage of 37 interlocking dials crafted with the precision and complexity of a 19th-century Swiss clock, the Antikythera mechanism was used for modeling and predicting the movements of the heavenly bodies as well as the dates and locations of upcoming Olympic games.

The original 81 shards of the Antikythera were recovered from under the sea (near the Greek island of Antikythera) in 1902, rusted and clumped together in a nearly indecipherable mass. Scientists dated it to 150 B.C. Such craftsmanship wouldn't be seen for another 1,000 years — but its purpose was a mystery for decades.

Many scientists have worked since the 1950s to piece together the story, with the help of some very sophisticated imaging technology in recent years, including X-ray and gamma-ray imaging and 3-D computer modeling.

Now, though, it has been rebuilt. As is almost always the way with these things, it was an amateur who cracked it. Michael Wright, a former curator at the Science Museum in London, has built a replica of the Antikythera, which works perfectly.

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