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Vannevar Bush with a Differential Analyzer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, c. 1940
Credit: MIT Museum

Analog Computers

Today, computers use 1s and 0s to encode numbers. However, numbers can also be represented directly through physical quantities such as electrical voltages or currents, volumes of liquid, or the position of mechanical shafts. Although limited in accuracy, analog computers are very useful for certain types of applications. Prior to the early 1950s, it was not possible to say whether analog or digital technology would prevail. Mechanical analog machines were designed by Lord Kelvin at the end of the nineteenth century and reached a peak with the Differential Analyzers built by Vannevar Bush in the 1930s. Descendants of these giant mechanical devices were in regular use until the early 1960s. Electrical analog computers are still used for some special applications.

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