February 15, 2012 AT 12:52 pm

Plan 28: Building Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine

Pt 660

Plan 28: Building Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Why hasn’t someone done this before?

Because it takes time. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Babbage’s contributions were fully understood (see Bruce Collier’s thesis), and until the 1980s that his plans had been deciphered by the likes of Allan Bromley. Only then could the Difference Engine No. 2 be constructed. It was finished in 1991. In many ways, The Difference Engine No. 2 was an ‘easy’ project because Babbage had left complete plans for it. The Analytical Engine is a different matter.

Babbage left multiple plans for the Analytical Engine and was constantly refining its design up until his death. To build the Analytical Engine first requires a research project to figure out which plan to build from.

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4 Comments

  1. From the article:
    "It might seem a folly to want to build a gigantic, relatively puny computer at great expense 170 years after its invention. But the message of a completed Analytical Engine is very clear: it’s possible to be 100 years ahead of your own time. With support, this type of "blue skies" thinking can result in fantastic changes to the lives of everyone. Just think of the impact of the computer and ask yourself how different the Victorian world would have been with Babbage Engines at its disposal."

    There was a science fiction book about that theme called ‘The Difference Engine’. It was part scifi, part steam punk, and part "007". It depictured a world of mechanical computers where those who programmed the computers were called ‘clackers’.

  2. The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.
    Ada Lovelace

    http://strangewondrous.net/browse/author/l/lovelace+ada

  3. I love the idea of Babbage’s Analytical Engine finally being built. Sure, my computer is fast and powerful, but you can’t see the data running through the chips. A dream of mine is to create a mechanical computer that uses balls rolling along tracks to play Tic-Tac-Toe.

  4. ^^ exactly. You can’t see the data running through the chips. I’ve been working hard on a microprocessor in VHDL for class and it’s amazing what goes on inside those guys. I read about Babbage a while back, this is a fascinating post.

    Also ^^, that Tic-Tac-Toe machine would be awesome.

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