Sunday, August 21, 2005


Today we live in a world unimaginable to even our great-grandparents. It’s an age of hi-tech, jet aircraft, supercomputers and intelligent machines. Since the Industrial Revolution our world has progressed at lightning pace, leaving all previous civilisations far behind it. Or has it?

This programme explores the amazing high technology of the Classical World and asks why with all these incredible devices, the Industrial Revolution did not happen two thousand years earlier.

The computer - a device for making automatic calculations - is the epitome of the modern age. The first electrical computers only emerged in the Second World War, the first mechanical ones barely a hundred years earlier.

Yet two thousand two hundred years ago the Greeks had machines that could do exactly the same things. The classical world of the 3rd Century BC produced three of the most important machines in history - Ctesibius’ clock, Vitruvius’ odometer and the spectacular Antikythera mechanism.

Beginning with the invention of the first mechanical clock in history (and the most accurate timepiece for 1500 years) we tell the story of ancient computing, from the automatic measuring devices that marked out Rome’s network of roads to the breathtaking secrets of the Antikythera mechanism, which was an entire model cosmos in a wooden box.

Yet the real question that should be asked is if these extraordinary mechanisms had survived would the computer age now be two thousand years old?


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