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Zuse is a young man aeronautical engineer in Germany in the 30s which, unfortunately for him,every day he collides with the need to carry out very long and complicated mathematical calculations, necessary for the design of aircraft. He wonders if it is possible to automate these calculations using machines, freeing men and women from the burden of their tedious and tedious execution.

The young Konrad Zuse thinks so and resigns from the Berlin airports to devote himself full time to the design and construction of such a machine. He sets up his studio / laboratory in the living room of his parents who, albeit reluctantly, finance him.

1938 - Z1

In 1938 the first computer model made by Zuse - called V1, then renamed Z1- sees the light.

It is made on one binary number base (0 and 1) implemented by thousands mechanical switches made with metal plates and regulated by a clock at 1 Hz (one operation per second). The Z1 it is programmable and can perform various operations depending on the set of instructions performed, which is read on a perforated celluloid tape. Numbers are expressed in floating point.

Obviously, mechanical switches have countless drawbacks: they are unreliable and weigh a lot. The Z1 consists of over 20.000 parts weighing more than a ton.

1941 - Z2

Zuse during the war years had another ingenious intuition: replacing mechanical switches with electromechanical relays that not only weigh less but are much more reliable. In 1941 it Z2, which incorporates 2500 relays (old scraps of the telephone industry), sees the light: it is the first electromechanical computer, with binary logic, programmable, ever made in history.

Too bad that Zuse is in the wrong place at the wrong time: nobody notices and his invention sinks into oblivion.

1950 - Z4

But after the war Zuse designs and creates it Z4 which integrates all the logical-mathematical features of its predecessors, but is entirely made with relays (even the memory) and abandons the machine language for programming, relying on first higher level programming language made by Zuse himself: the Plankalkül.

Zuse founds his own company to produce the Z4: the first commercial model is sold to the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology in 1950 and is the only electromechanical computer active in Europe.

The company will continue its business until the mid-60s when it is acquired by Siemens.

Apparently in 1947 Zuse and Alan Turing they met in Göttingen.

In 1969 in his book Rechnender raum (Calculating Space) Zuse suggests that the entire universe may be nothing more than a huge computational machine, what makes him a cult figure among the exponents of digital physics, as Edward Fredkin called it.

According to this approach, the entire universe can be described in discrete terms, as sequences of 0 and 1 and the laws of nature are nothing more than the programs that "calculate" the various phenomena, from the big bang to the flight of a mosquito (so to speak) . However, such an approach found comfort in the developments of quantum physics at the base of which lies the idea that the phenomena of nature are discrete.

Throughout her life Zuse will apply herself as an amateur to painting, adhering to the ideas of futurism and under the strong impression of the German cinema of the 20s and 30s and in particular of Fritz Lang.

We thank for the contribution

Paolo Riccardo Felicioli

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