Ancient computing – the Antikythera Mechanism

When diving deeper into the far end of the historic roots of bioinformatics, I came across the Antikythera mechanism. To me, it has all the hallmarks of what bioinformatics is about: taking in the available knowledge of the time, integrating all the data there is into a functional machine model that actually makes useful and verifiable predictions. And all of that already happened approximately 2100 years ago. Wow!

The timeline for BioInformatics I created however did not seem to accept a corresponding entry, although on dipity dates B.C. should work (since April 2011, they say) – but not for me (yet).

Now you can wear this “timeless classic” on your wrist – see Hublot painstakingly recreates a mysterious, 2,100-year-old clockwork relic – but why?

But nevertheless, I am amazed by the whole story. For more in-depth info and videos, there is over half a dozen interesting articles related to the Mechanism listed here on boingboing alone. And of course, here is a 3D version:

I had to chew a bit on the fact that it took us (in Europe at least) well over 1500(!) years until the first mechanical clocks or mathematical adding machines re-appeared which were of comparable complexity. It’s more than just a bit, well, embarassing, isn’t it? Sobering up from the illusion that progress strictly is a one-way street leading uphill can give you a bit of an intellectual hangover. So what happened in between, I have been asking myself. Probably we had much more important stuff to worry about for a millenium or so, than, say, computing and toying around with models which help explain the world we live in. Like what? Well, you know the (hi-)story – go figure. Could it have to do with the romans favouring conquest over science as the method of choice for discovering new things, followed soon by the spread of a firm believe that all truth is contained in a single book (nothing to be gained from looking elsewhere and questioning the status quo) – maybe?! As always, I am open to consider alternative hypotheses. Perhaps it’s a gross oversimplification, but in the light reflected from occam’s razor, this one looks quite good to me, though.

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  1. #1 by cistronic on 2013/01/26 - 13:26

    The pinnacle of mechanised computation: the Curta

further hints, constructive criticism, questions, praise

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