Science: History by Computer

Giant computers have built much of their reputation by serving as the brains behind the world's intricate weaponry.

But they are also capable of engaging in more innocent pursuits. At International Business Machines Corp., one of the more complicated computers recently spent 40 hours calculating the motions of the moon, sun and planets for 600 years as they cruised over ancient Babylon.

The Babylonians and their predecessors in Mesopotamia believed that the motions of the heavenly bodies had an intimate influence on human affairs. When they recorded current events—the start of a war, say, or a drop in the price of barley—they were...

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