The single most important object in all of human history

It doesn’t look like much. An odd-shaped hunk of verdigris-covered metal. On a passing glance, you might mistake it for the handle of an old ship’s door or some other long-forgotten marine junk.

human history
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But this is no sea garbage. What you see in the image above is the Antikythera mechanism. It is, to the curious mind unfettered by dogma, the holiest of holies: the first known computer.

The device is more than 2,000 years old and was believed to have been constructed by Greek scholars.

Upon careful study, scientists have determined that the device was capable of calculating the trajectory and position of various cosmic objects, including 7 classical planets, the Moon, and more. It was even reportedly capable of tracking the Olympic games.

Today, if you wanted to know when the next lunar eclipse will occur, or what position Jupiter is in, chances are you’d pull out your smartphone and use the computer inside of it to query the internet.

And, essentially, things worked the same way over 2,000 years ago when scientists and scholars used computers such as the Antikythera mechanism to perform complex calculations with the turning of a mechanical crank. Only, they didn’t have the luxury of the web to aid them.

It’s possible there was an earlier computer in human history, but if that’s the case it remains lost to the ages. Thus, for the time being, there can be no doubt that the Antikythera mechanism represents a singularity in the history of humanity.

Its existence demonstrates the exact moment in history when our species took the first nascent steps on our journey to transhumanism.

You can learn all about the mechanism in this research paper (paywalled) from the 1970s. And here’s a recent pre-print (free) featuring new speculation on the device’s original calibration date.

 

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