The computer enigma

Discover the history of the computer, from the earliest calculation tools (5000 BC) to today's technological explosion

The computer enigma presents one of the most important computer collections in Europe, and the most complete in Catalonia. A reflection on the technological revolution, on the human ingenuity that has made it possible, and the accelerated evolution seen today.

Many believe that information technology began with the PC, although in fact this did not emerge until the 1960s. In truth, the origins of computers are to be found around 5,000 years BC, when the earliest human civilisations developed tools to assist them in performing simple calculations, such as counting livestock or measuring areas of land. As science and technology advanced, these tools were progressively perfected: the abacus appeared, followed by the astrolabe, Napier's rods, calculators, tabulators, the centralised computers better known as mainframes, PCs, and so on successively down to the present day, with chips everywhere and information technologies evolving at breakneck pace.

The exhibition space covers more than 1500 m2 and takes us on a journey through the history of the computer, from its earliest origins to today's technological explosion, following a visual tour with a complete display of nearly 150 mathematical instruments and devices, the most distinctive elements of a collection of more than 400 computers and 200 microprocessors, the most significant in Europe. As well as revealing an essential and little-known aspect of our history, this exhibition aims to show how human ingenuity, linked to successive needs and contingencies in different eras, but made possible what we today call the information society.


  1. INTRODUCTION. An audiovisual presentation welcomes visitors and allows them to walk along a historical pathway of major milestones.
  2. FIGURES AND CALCULATIONS. Presentation of calculation as a concept, its earliest history and its significance in the history of humanity and different societies. (ABACUS, ASTROLABE, Ramon Llull, NAPIER'S RODS, RULES OF CALCULUS and the CALCULATOR CLOCK).
  3. MECHANICAL CALCULATION. Reconstruction of the first automatic calculation tools. (Blaise Pascal, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace)
  4. TABULATORS: THE GREAT CENSUS PROBLEM. The invention of the tabulator in 1890 cut the time required to calculate America's census from 10 years to 6 weeks. (Herman Hollerith, SAMAS Tabulator and URIBM Module)
  5. WAR. Calculation needs increased in particular during the Second World War, leading to the creation of the first great computers in history. (COLOSSUS, ENIAC, EDVAC and the ENIGMA machine)
  6. COMPUTERS GO GLOBAL. At the end of the war, the technicians and scientists who created the first great computers return to their universities and industry to make the first civilian computers. (GE BULL-415)
  7. LINKS WITH SCIENCE. The infinite possibilities of computerised calculation were soon applied to the field of science, forming a new category of computers devised and designed to perform calculations and variables applied to engineering or space science, allowing mankind to travel to the moon, for example. (EAI PACER, IBM 1130)
  8. THE GREAT REVOLUTION ENTERS THE WORLD OF BUSINESS. The largest companies use mainframes such as the IBM 360, very powerful, large-scale computers that are hard to maintain and very expensive. Small and medium enterprises make use of mini-computers: smaller, easier to use and program, they used fewer resources and would often fulfil just one task (invoicing, word processing, accounting, etc.).
  9. THE PERSONAL COMPUTER. In the 1970s and 1980s the Personal Computer was born, and with it computers entered the home. (Apple I, PC DOS and Commodore 64)
  10. PRESENT AND FUTURE. The digital revolution, the evolution of technology and the future model of society. (cutting-edge telephones, tablets, ultrabooks, e-books, information society, social media, digital convergence)