Mark His Words

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good,
you'll have to ram them down people's throats

Howard Aiken

Sunday, 9 March, would have been the 97th birthday of the late Howard Aiken, the computer scientist who built the first large-scale digital calculator. As part of a collaboration between Harvard University, IBM, and the U.S. Navy, in 1943, Aiken completed the revolutionary Mark I computer, a machine that greatly sped up calculations.

Aiken's team fabricated Mark I from thousands of telephone relays and IBM electromechanical parts such as counterwheels. Contained in a 50-square-meter frame of stainless steel and glass, the hulking machine at Harvard could process 23-digit numbers as well as logarithms and trigonometric functions--operations the Navy used for ballistics during World War II.

Operators fed data into Mark I using strips of punch-card paper; results were spat out by two electric typewriters connected to the machine. It took as long as 5 seconds to perform one simple operation; today's supercomputers can perform upward of a trillion operations per second. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Aiken died on 14 March 1973 in St. Louis.

Posted in Math