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Before the 20th century, most calculations were done by humans. Early mechanical tools to help humans with digital calculations were called “calculating machines”, by proprietary names, or even as they are now, calculators. The machine operator was called the computer.
The first aids to computation were purely mechanical devices which required the operator to set up the initial values of an elementary arithmetic operation, then manipulate the device to obtain the result. Later, computers represented numbers in a continuous form, for instance distance along a scale, rotation of the shaft, or a voltage. Numbers could also be represented in the form of digits, automatically manipulated by a mechanical mechanism. Although this approach generally required more complex mechanisms, it greatly increased the precision of results. A series of breakthroughs, such as miniaturized transistor computers, and the integrated circuit, caused digital computers to largely replace analog computers. The cost of computers gradually became the low that personal computers, and then mobile computers (smartphones and tablets) became ubiquitous.
Devices have been used to aid computation for thousands of years, mostly using one-to-one correspondence with fingers. The earliest counting device was probably a form of tally stick. Later record keeping aids throughout the Fertile Crescent included calculi (clay spheres, cones, etc.) which represented counts of items, probably livestock or grains, sealed and hollow unbaked clay containers. The use of counting rods is one example.
The abacus was early used for arithmetic tasks. What we now call the Roman abacus was used in Babylonia as early as 2400 BC. Since then, many other forms of reckoning boards or tables have been invented. In a medieval European counting house, a checkered cloth would be placed on a table, and markers moved around on it according to certain rules, as an aid to calculating sums of money.
Several analog computers were constructed in ancient and medieval times to perform astronomical calculations. These include the Antikythera mechanism and the astrolabe from ancient Greece (c. 150-100 BC), which are generally regarded as the earliest known mechanical analog computers. Hero of Alexandria (c. 10-70 AD) made many complex mechanical devices including slot machines and a programmable cart.  Other early versions of mechanical devices used to perform one or another type of calculations include the planisphere and other mechanical computing devices invented by Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (c. AD 1000); The equatorium and universal latitude-independent astrolabe by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Zarqaa (c. AD 1015); the astronomical analog computers of other medieval Muslim astronomers and engineers; and the astronomical clock tower of Su Song (c. AD 1090) during the Song dynasty.
The history of robots has its origins on the ancient world. The modern concept began to be developed with the onset of the Industrial Revolution which allowed for the use of complex mechanics and the subsequent introduction of electricity. This made it possible to power machines with small compact motors. In the early 20th century, the notion of a humanoid machine was developed. Today, it is now possible to envisage human sized robots with the capacity for near human thoughts and movement.
The first uses of modern robots were in factories as industrial robots – simple fixed machines capable of manufacturing tasks which allowed production without the need for human assistance. Digitally controlled industrial robots and robots making use of artificial intelligence have been built since the 1960s.
Concept of artificial servants and companions date at least as far back as the ancient legends of Cadmus, who sowed dragon teeth that turned into soldiers, and the myth of Pygmalion whose statue of Galatea came to life. Many ancient mythologies included artificial people, such as the talking mechanical handmaidens built by the Greek god Hephaestus (Vulcan to the Romans) out of gold, the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend. Chinese legend relates that in the 10th century BC, Yan Shi made an automaton resembling a human in an account from the Lie Zi text.
In Greek mythology, Hephaestus created utilitarian three-legged tables that could move about under their own power and a bronze man, Talos, that defended Crete. Talos was eventually destroyed by Media who cast a lightning bolt at his single vein of lead. To take the golden fleece Jason was also required to tame two fire breathing bulls with bronze hooves; and like Cadmus he sowed the teeth of a dragon into soldiers.
The Indian Lokapannatti (11th/12th century) tells the story of King Ajatashatru of Magadha who gathered the Buddhas relics and hid them in an underground stupa. The Buddhas relics were protected by mechanical robots (bhuta vahana yanta), from the kingdom of Roma visaya; until they were disarmed by King Ashoka. In the Egyptian legend of Rocail, the younger brother of Seth created a palace and a sepulcher containing autonomous statues that lived out the lives of men so realistically they were mistaken for having souls.
In Christian legend, several of the men associated with the introduction of Arabic learning (and, through it, the reintroduction of Aristotle and Hero’s works) to medieval Europe devised brazen heads that could answer questions posed to them. Albertus Magnus was supposed to have constructed an entire android who could perform some domestic tasks but was destroyed by Albert’s student Thomas Aquinas for disturbing his thought. The most famous legend concerned a bronze head devised by Roger Bacon which was destroyed or scrapped after he missed its moment of operation.
Automata were popular in the imaginary worlds of medieval literature. For instance, the Middle Dutch tale Roman van Walewein (“The Romance of Walewein”, early 13th century) described mechanical birds and angels producing sound by means of systems of pipes.
Concepts akin to a robot can be found as long ago as the 4th century BC, when the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical bird he called “The Pigeon” which was propelled by steam. Yet another early automaton was the clepsydra, made in 250 BC by Ctesibius of Alexandria, a physicist and inventor from Ptolemaic Egypt. Hero of Alexandria (10–70 AD) made numerous innovations in the field of automata, including one that allegedly could speak.
Taking up the earlier reference in Homer’s Iliad, Aristotle speculated in his Politics (ca. 322 BC, book 1, part 4) that automatons could someday bring about human equality by making possible the abolition of slavery:
– There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates, and masters not needing slaves. This condition would be that each instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation, like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods made by Hephaestus, of which Homer relates that “Of their own motion they entered the conclave of Gods on Olympus”, as if a shuttle should weave of itself, and a plectrum should do its own harp playing.
In ancient China, an account on automata is found in the Lie Zi text, written in the 3rd century BC, in which King Mu of Zhou (1023–957 BC) is presented with a life-size, human-shaped mechanical figure by Yan Shi, an “artificer”.
The Cosmic Engine, a 10-metre (33 ft) clock tower built by Su Song in Kaifeng, China, in 1088, featured mechanical mannequins that chimed the hours, ringing gongs or bells among other devices.
Hero’s works on automata were translated into Latin amid the 12th century Renaissance. The early 13th-century artist-engineer Villard de Honnecourt sketched plans for several automata. At the end of the thirteenth century, Robert II, Count of Artois, built a pleasure garden at his castle at Hesdin that incorporated a number of robots, humanoid and animal.
One of the first recorded designs of a humanoid robot was made by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) in around 1495. Da Vinci’s notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contain detailed drawings of a mechanical knight in armour which was able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw. The design is likely to be based on his anatomical research recorded in the Vitruvian Man but it is not known whether he attempted to build the robot (see: Leonardo’s robot). In 1533, Johannes Müller von Königsberg created an automaton eagle and fly made of iron; both could fly. John Dee is also known for creating a wooden beetle, capable of flying.
Around 1700, many automatons were built including ones capable of acting, drawing, flying, and playing music; some of the most famous works of the period were created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1737, including an automaton flute player, tambourine player, and his most famous work, “The Digesting Duck”. Vaucanson’s duck was powered by weights and was capable of imitating a real duck by flapping its wings (over 400 parts were in each of the wings alone), eat grain, digest it, and defecate by excreting matter stored in a hidden compartment.