I haven’t been able to find the exact quote, but unless my memory is playing tricks, Martin Gardner once posed the question “What modern artifact would most astonish Aristotle?”, and concluded that the answer was a Texas Instruments programmable calculator that could be taught to execute simple series of instructions. That was, roughly, 1975.
Here is what my iPhone does: It listens to the radio and tells me the name of the artist, song and album. It scans bar codes and tells me where to get the same item cheaper. It gives me step by step directions to anyplace I want to go. It points me to the nearest public bathroom. It recommends restaurants, based on cuisine, price, and proximity. It plays any music I want it to play, and it recommends new music based on what it’s learned about my preferences. It shows me a photograph of the entire earth and lets me slowly (or quickly) zoom in on my (or your) front porch. It takes pictures. It takes videos. It lets me edit those pictures and videos. It photographs 360 degree panoramas. It plays movies. It plays TV shows. It displays pretty much any book, newspaper or magazine I want to read. It reminds me where I parked my car. It lets me draw rough sketches of diagrams with my fingers and makes them look professional. It allows me to accept credit cards. It takes dictation. It checks the stock market or the weather with the push of a button. It reminds me of my appointments. It lets me browse the Web. It shows me my email. It locates and summons nearby taxicabs. It turns itself into a carpenter’s level. It turns itself into a flashlight. It makes phone calls. It makes video calls. And, oh yes — it has a calculator.
Now who would have been more astonished? Aristotle confronted with Martin Gardner’s calculator, or the Martin Gardner of 1975 confronted with my iPhone? I’m going to say it’s a close call.