The Most Powerful Computers You’ve Never Heard Of

The Most Powerful Computers You’ve Never Heard Of

Analog computers were the most powerful computers for thousands of years, relegated to obscurity by the digital revolution. This video is sponsored by Brilliant. The first 200 people to sign up via get 20% off a yearly subscription.

Thanks to Scott Wiedemann for the lego computer instructions –

Antikythera Archive & Animations ©2005-2020 Images First Ltd. “The Antikythera Cosmos” (2021) follows the latest developments from the UCL Antikythera Research Team as they recreate a dazzling display of the ancient Greek Cosmos at the front of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Tides video from NASA –

Ship animation from this painting –

Moore’s Law, the op-amp, and the Norden bombsight were filmed at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.


Freeth, T., Bitsakis, Y., Moussas, X., Seiradakis, J. H., Tselikas, A., Mangou, H., … & Edmunds, M. G. (2006). Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism. Nature, 444(7119), 587-591. –
Freeth, T., & Jones, A. (2012). The cosmos in the Antikythera mechanism. ISAW Papers. –
Cartwright, D. E. (2000). Tides: a scientific history. Cambridge University Press. –
Thomson, W. (2017). Mathematical and physical papers. CUP Archive. –
Parker, B. B. (2007). Tidal analysis and prediction. NOAA NOS Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services. –
Parker, B. (2011). The tide predictions for D-Day. Physics Today, 64(9), 35-40. –
Small, J. (2013). The Analogue Alternative. Routledge. –
Zorpette, G. (1989). Parkinson’s gun director. IEEE Spectrum, 26(4), 43. –
Tremblay, M. (2009). Deconstructing the myth of the Norden Bombsight (Doctoral dissertation). –
Gladwell, M. (2021). The Bomber Mafia. Little, Brown and Company. –
Mindell, D. A. (2000). Automation’s finest hour: Radar and system integration in World War II. Systems, Experts, and Computers: The Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After. Edited by A. C. Hughes and T. P. Hughes, 27-56. –
Haigh, T., Priestley, M., & Rope, C. (2016). ENIAC in Action. The MIT Press. –
Soni, J., & Goodman, R. (2017). A mind at play: how Claude Shannon invented the information age. Simon and Schuster. –
Haigh, T. & Ceruzzi, P. (2021). A New History of Modern Computing. The MIT Press. –
Rid, T. (2016). Rise of the Machines: a Cybernetic History. Highbridge. –
Ulmann, B. (2013). Analog computing. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. –

Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Dmitry Kuzmichev, Matthew Gonzalez, Baranidharan S, Eric Sexton, john kiehl, Daniel Brockman, Anton Ragin, S S, Benedikt Heinen, Diffbot, Micah Mangione, MJP, Gnare, Dave Kircher, Edward Larsen, Burt Humburg, Blak Byers, Dumky, , Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, Ludovic Robillard, jim buckmaster, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Vincent, Stephen Wilcox, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Clayton Greenwell, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi, Ron Neal

Written by Derek Muller, Stephen Welch and Emily Zhang
Filmed by Derek Muller, Emily Zhang and Raquel Nuno
Animation by Fabio Albertelli, Jakub Misiek, Mike Radjabov, Iván Tello, Trenton Oliver
Edited by Derek Muller
Additional video supplied by Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound and Jonny Hyman
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev and Emily Zhang

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30 Responses

  1. OVERWERK says:

    Your clarity and efforts are always appreciated. — When I see a new Veritasium video, I’m glued to my screen.

  2. AlphaPhoenix says:

    I exclaimed at my TV when you showed the rotary ball integrator. What a beautiful system!

  3. Me Make Silly Thing says:

    I’m so excited for part 2! I’ve recently become extremely interested in electronics, and learning about how opamps and analog computing work has been a challenge, but well worth it so far.

    It’s also absolutely mind boggling to me that half these concepts even exist. The absolute brilliance of inventors and scientists is so exciting. I’ve been looking at the circuit diagrams for some digital and analog integrated circuits recently, and I keep asking myself how someone even goes about coming up with these designs. It’s inspiring in a way, and it strengthens my resolve to turn my interest in the field into a career. Keep doing what you do!

  4. pratik dedhia says:

    This video gave me chills, each story was awe inspiring, shows much of the current technology we are taking and using for granted are the result of handful of extremely dedicated, hardworking, usefully creative people and an unknown Force which is making it happen.
    And as always the transitions in the video were smooth.

  5. Byron Davison says:

    I would love to see a veritasium / clickspring crossover. The connection between the theory in physics to the the real world in machining, has a lot of merit for each.

  6. John Grasso says:

    As a person into computer science myself, I love looking at the old ways of doing things. Seeing the pulleys and the ball integrators was incredible, and I can’t wait for the next video.

    • Christopher D. says:

      I think it’s also the new maybe cuz we wanna upload minds and brains are analog mostly not digital

    • Sadat says:

      @Christopher D. There are actually continuous data structures in computer science research, so an analog system is not exactly necessary to store analog data.

  7. Owais Bin Asad says:

    The rotary ball integrator, oh God, what a fascinating piece of machinery! Can someone guide me as to where I can get my hands on one?
    Not only would it be an amazing prop to have on my desk but it would serve well as a teaching aid to Calculus students so they can develop an appreciation for the physical “analog” of the integration process.

  8. The Engineering Mindset says:

    I’m absolutely fascinated by these old mechanical computers. There was no software back then to design them, the device was designed within someone’s imagination. Truly incredible.

    • NimsChannel says:

      The only thing I’d add to the corrections here is I doubt they had actual paper.

    • Godfrey Pigott says:

      @NimsChannel You mean …. like Numberphile?

    • bradbadley1 says:

      @Godfrey Pigott That’s true for the problem in the video sure. But that’s not true for ALL problems. I’m just saying that there’s always difficult problems to solve no matter what tools you have available at the time. Sure, most programmers can solve the tide charts pretty easily. But have them try to solve protein folding and MOST couldn’t do it. So there’s still genius programmers that should be respected just like these guys in the past. (Maybe, I read too much into your original comment.)

    • Luxo Clermenceau says:

      @Tushar Gupta not True, alot of time you Just let the process do the work. In the world of tech alot of time accidents happens and u find something you wouldn’t have find in another way.

    • CecilMan says:

      and with raw mathematics and planning, programming was done with hardware back then.

  9. dingus153 says:

    I’m shocked you didn’t mention Chris over at Clickspring, as far as I’m aware, he’s one of the only people to have actually made a replication of the Antikythera mechanism using similar methods to what the original creator may have used. It is an absolutely fantastic series and I cannot recommend it enough

    • Cameron Jacobs says:

      Did he end up finishing that? I haven’t seen anything from him in ages!

    • Björn Morén says:

      Yea I was thinking the same.

    • Tom Peters says:

      @Cameron Jacobs In the few videos he as put out (mostly on the second chanel), he has commented a few times saying that more is coming. He’s already poured thousands of hours into it both making and studying/writing about it, and he seems to be on the next phase which is going to take many more hours of work. oh and then going through all that footage and making videos for us. Absolute legend if you ask me.

    • ragincanadiangmail says:

      @Cameron Jacobs He made some significant discoveries during his investigation of the machine which lead to him writing scientific papers instead of machining gorgeous parts. I think he figured out it is based on lunar movement, not solar, or something like that, basically upending what everyone thought the machine was for and how it worked. He’s been releasing detailed videos highlighting certain previously made components for the Antikythera machine and assuring us there is more to follow.

  10. Texas Blues Alley says:

    This is my favorite of all the videos you’ve ever done.

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