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3 A Brief History of Computer Technology

A complete history of computing would include a multitude of diverse devices such as the ancient Chinese abacus, the Jacquard loom (1805) and Charles Babbage's ``analytical engine'' (1834). It would also include discussion of mechanical, analog and digital computing architectures. As late as the 1960s, mechanical devices, such as the Marchant calculator, still found widespread application in science and engineering. During the early days of electronic computing devices, there was much discussion about the relative merits of analog vs. digital computers. In fact, as late as the 1960s, analog computers were routinely used to solve systems of finite difference equations arising in oil reservoir modeling. In the end, digital computing devices proved to have the power, economics and scalability necessary to deal with large scale computations. Digital computers now dominate the computing world in all areas ranging from the hand calculator to the supercomputer and are pervasive throughout society. Therefore, this brief sketch of the development of scientific computing is limited to the area of digital, electronic computers.