Computer Science, Technology

Bringing back machines to life

The word “machine” has its origin in the Greek word “makhana” meaning “device”. Initially used to refer mechanical structures built to perform an intended action, the term “machine” in modern times encompass a lot more – automobiles, computers, farm machinery, factory automation systems, robots – the list goes on. At times, reading and learning about those old machines which paved the way for the new and technologically advanced ones is fascinating.

I am not an automobile enthusiast who gets down to the nitty-gritty of every vehicle I drive. Nevertheless, a few vehicle restoration videos I watched on YouTube in recent times inspired me, not as a driver, but as an engineer. In most of these videos, the YouTuber rescue (that’s the word most of them use) and restore a car or a truck which has been abandoned by its owner. Here is one of them I bookmarked:

It is the sheer passion for engineering that drives these folks to search for old vehicles and bring them back to life. Often, the search for a spare part makes them travel miles. One can imagine how satisfied they would be looking at those restored engines moving again. Ain’t they giving rebirth to these old machines?

My thoughts were in conjunction with computers while watching these videos. Does anyone care to bring back vintage computers to life? Even if anyone does, is it worth restoring them considering their sluggishness compared to modern computers? Any decent smartphone we have today has more computing power than old computers and can perform millions of operations in fractions of a second. A restored van from the 1960s can still move at 40 mph, and satisfy the driver with the pleasure of driving a vintage vehicle. But a restored computer from the 1970s – say an IBM 5100 with memory ranging from 16-64KiB – will never satisfy the user now as he/she won’t be able to listen to his/her favourite music album! Once restored, it might be exciting to see something coming upon the screen but that is more or less useless in the modern era.

There are a few vintage computers that are still considered a prized possession – Apple Computer or Apple I, launched by Apple in 1976 or IBM Personal Computer launched by IBM in 1981 etc. The exhibits section of IBM Archives is a good source to read about the evolution of modern computers, starting with The notable first: IBM 701.

Moore’s law holds! New computers replace the older ones quickly by adding more computing power, memory, storage etc., thus paving the way for technological innovation in almost every part of our daily life – automobile, modern medicine, home appliances etc. Present-day software is hungry for more computing power, memory etc. to solve harder problems using better faster algorithms. This makes computers obsolete at a faster rate than ever before. Nobody cares to rescue and restore these as we do with automobiles!


I found a few old/vintage electronic devices at my home – a Yashica film camera bought by my father around 30 years back, a Tape Recorder made by Sharp Corporation in the late 1980s etc. Occasionally, I feel like fixing the tape recorder to make it sing again, then comes the bitter realization that I don’t have any cassettes to listen to – they have been replaced by Spotify or YouTube Music installed on my smartphone.


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