Back to the future

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Many old-timers find it difficult to accept the computer as part of their daily life, but they'd be surprised to know that several computing devices were in vogue even in Vedic times

W hat does it take to learn the latest in computers? Time travel, says an old-timer…

AD: Why do old-timers find it so difficult to come to terms with computers?

BC: What do you mean?

AD: Well, you know, older generations and new technology…

BC: So you think computers are modern?

AD: Of course!

BC: Incidentally, man began using calculating devices more than 5000 years ago…

AD: C'mon, that's the world's oldest argument… The abacus you're referring to was just the beginning of the computing evolution.

BC: Ok, what's the smallest unit of storage in a computer?

AD: Bit? Binary digit?

BC: Binary representations — 0s and 1s — were used in ancient India to classify Vedic meters as far back as the Second Century AD. And that's how information is stored today — as binary numbers.

AD: Information storage was perfected 1,700 years BEFORE the computer was invented?

BC: Funnily enough, even data storage media was in place before computers were.

AD: What?

BC: Remember punch cards? They were first used by Jacquard in 1804 to programme his loom so that it could perform predefined tasks. Almost a century later, this technology was adopted by the Recording and Tabulating Company, which you now know as...


BC: Correct! But one thing did not change — there were enough people to oppose the new wave of technology even back then — they called themselves the Luddites.

AD: So human intelligence was in plenty, but constantly challenged... You're right, nothing has changed!

BC: Absolutely! We had enough brainpower to get a grip on artificial intelligence too, several thousand years ago.

AD: You're having me on, right?

BC: Of course not... we had perfected a system to paraphrase Sanskrit — scientists have found it to be pretty similar to our current understanding of artificial intelligence...

AD: At this rate, you're going to be telling me that Chanakya wrote software.

BC: Not Chanakya, but Aryabhatta. Isn't it amazing that even programming came into existence much before computers did?

AD: You're kidding!

BC: Developing solutions to solve problems was made possible 3600 years ago... Aryabhatta developed algorithms called kuttaka that helped solve linear intermediate equations…

AD: How do you know all this? I thought I was the expert here.

BC: Sorry, the experts came much before you and your computers. Panini's path-breaking work in setting rules and definitions for Sanskrit grammar has been found to be in line with the rules that define the structure of modern-day computer science.

AD: From Sanskrit to Silicon Valley… incredible!

BC: Yes! Now, what would you call a procedure for solving a problem, in computer terminology?

AD: An algorithm, of course!

BC: Right! Do you know that the term dates back to the 9th Century when notations were made using Hindu Arabic numerals by Al-Khwarizmi, an Arab scholar? They were known as Al-Khwarizmi or Algorismi. Today you know them as...

AD: …algorithms!

BC: Absolutely! In the modern day context, Ada Lovelace developed the first algorithm for Charles Babbage's Analytical Machine in 1843. She is popularly referred to as the world's first computer programmer and the computer language Ada was named in her honour.

AD: At this rate, you will be telling me that there was also an equivalent of Facebook many centuries ago...

BC: Yes, people back then had developed a very efficient system to network with the world outside.

AD: What was it?

BC: They just opened their windows and had chat sessions with their neighbours.




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