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  1. The computer we know today is properly called the Von Neumann stored-program general purpose binary digital computer. It was the mathematician John Von Neumann who had the idea of storing the software in the same memory where the data was kept, and Vannevar Bush who realized that it was easiest to represent numbers in binary. But there were many other kinds of computers and calculating machines before the current kind. There were adding machines that represented numbers with rotating gears, and analog computers that computed values with changing voltages, or different distances along a sliding stick or wheel. The slide rule could multiply, divide, extract square and cube roots, and compute trigonometric functions—all via marks etched into ivory. Lots of early computers had specialized, single-purpose functions. The Norden bombsight determined when to drop bombs by computing using the speed and altitude of the aircraft. Colossus was a special-purpose machine for decrypting German ciphers in World War II.

    Back around 100 BC the ancient Greeks even had a bronze mechanical computer for predicting astronomical events. It’s the earliest calculating machine ever known. It worked with gear ratios.

    The first computer of today’s kind, with programmable functions, was invented by the Englishman Charles Babbage in the early 1800s. It was supposed to be made with brass gears, and programmed with punched cards. But he never got enough money to actually build it. His friend Ada Lovelace wrote a program for it, though, the first software ever.

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