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


would have been the 99th 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.

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