Beijing Harper Lecture: The First Age of Mechanical Calculation
From roughly 1870 to 1970, the first reliable calculating machines were manufactured and marketed internationally, allowing the heavy-duty calculations required for astronomy, insurance, official statistics, and navigation to be partially automated.
The result was the demotion of calculation from a lofty form of intelligence to a mechanical activity. Yet a closer look reveals that the shift from human to mechanical calculations created new forms of intelligence and a tight connection between algorithms and the division of labor that has persisted ever since. Join Lorraine Daston for an exploration of the methods and meanings of calculation in modern times.