MANUAL TO THE WORLD’S OLDEST DIGITAL COMPUTER, THE ZUSE Z4, FOUND
So as a tech geek, this story gives me mixed feelings. Because computers are so important today, it’s important to remember their place in history, where they came from and when. But Nazis? This is a piece of techno-geek lore that I just never came across. Or, maybe, I simply chose to forget it. The world’s oldest surviving computer is the Zuse Z4. If that name sounds a bit dated and haughty, it’s because it is. The Nazis made the Zuse Z4. Well, sort of. But we’re talking about this because the missing manual for the oldest digital computer is back with us.
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THE ZUSE Z4 WAS BUILT BY A MAN, ZUSE, FOR THE NAZIS IN WORLD WAR 2 GERMANY
So here’s the thing. The Nazis had a LOT of R&D when they were trying to take over a lot of the world and were committing atrocities, the worst of which was the Holocaust. We’re talking about cannons that can shoot for miles, guns, planes, and of course nukes. They were really, really close with being able to deliver that last. But, they were also developing computers. And like their rocket scientists, they had the best, at least for a while. His name was Konrad Zuse, creator of the Zuse Z4, and the father of every modern computer we use today, including what you’re using to read this.
ZUSE HID FROM THE NAZIS, WITH HIS COMPUTER, WAITED OUT THE WAR IN A SMALL TOWN
So he had finished making the Z4, but when the war turned against the Nazis they wanted Zuse to move his computer out of the Allies’ reach. But Zuse didn’t humor them, and instead took his computer and hid it in a barn in a small town in Germany, Bad Hindelang. And Zuse continued to hide there, and survived by selling woodcuts to farmers and American troops. So maybe I’m not too torn, as the Nazis lost another tool they could have used to kill even more people. The Zuse Z4 ended up at the Institute of Applied Mathematics in Zurich. And researchers there just discovered the lost manual this year.
So another piece of the modern world is back with us, in full force. Fortunately, the Nazis are gone. Now, if only we could deal with the Neo kind that seem to be virtually everywhere.