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It's Time To Build the Analytical Engine 127

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the future-is-awhile-ago dept.
macslocum writes "John Graham-Cumming is launching a project to finish Charles Babbage's dream and build an Analytical Engine for public display. The goal: inspire future generations of scientists to work on their own 100-year leaps."
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It's Time To Build the Analytical Engine

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  • Is it just me? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Colourspace (563895) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @03:19PM (#33798202)
    Reading TFA sent a very real chill down my spine. Who knows what we are overlooking everyday with all the science and engineering going on in the world? The shocking thing about this whole story is that in retrospect, his idea seems obvious and is scientifically sound, but was ignored. The real point I'm trying to make is how much CAD software and man hours will it take to simulate this - but he did it all without even a pocket calculator.
  • Much more... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CAIMLAS (41445) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @03:22PM (#33798248) Homepage

    This is much more than just building it for public display. The idea is to demonstrate that it was, indeed, a fully functional device, and to give credit where credit is due.

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @03:25PM (#33798286)

    It's just you. Programmable machinery has been around a long time.

    Babbage's step to develop a generic, programmable machine was innovative, but not out of the blue.

    It's complex and pretty amazing (and loud), and we shouldn't take anything away from the achievement of the Analytical Machine, but it was still an evolution atop existing designs.

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @03:28PM (#33798344)

    One thing to keep in mind, it's entirely possible that his detractors were right. I wouldn't be surprised if the amount of effort that would have gone into designing, building, operating, and maintaining an analytical engine would have been higher than hiring humans to do the work in the first place. One thing with being 100 years ahead of your time is that... well, your idea is 100 years ahead of everything else; a surprising number of inventions would be totally worthless if taken 100 years out of context.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @03:46PM (#33798586) Homepage Journal

    What today stands out as something that is so immediately useful and complex and ahead of its time that we as humans are lucky to have been around at the very start of?

    Um, all technology starting with the wheel? If you mean "living humans", my grandmother's only been dead for 7 years, but she was born nine months before the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk and watched the moon landing (I was a teenager then, I watched it too -- EVERYBODY watched that).

    But sorry, I don't think much of your list. Fire and electricity were discovered, not invented. I'd say the wheel, agriculture, the steam engine, telephony, radio, aircraft, spacecraft, computers, and BEER.

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @03:54PM (#33798696) Homepage Journal

    but he did it all without even a pocket calculator

    The pocket calculator [wikipedia.org] was invented 350 years ago. The engineers at NASA that sent men to the moon used the same kind of pocket calculators available to Babbage; the same pocket calculator I used to cheat in math class with in Jr. high.

  • by melchoir55 (218842) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @04:40PM (#33799410)

    There is an entire scientific discipline (cognitive science) devoted to the creation of an AI. It is nowhere near succeeding. Unless the US military has managed to perform its own research (and I mean including basics like underlying philosophy which isn't even settled) then it is not possible for the US military to be harboring an AI. I know this seems possible from the outside because they get so much money... but money can't really make a few closed door researchers produce something more significant than an army of thousands of researchers sharing their data (academia) unless the money is giving those closed door researchers access to requisite hardware for the science. Hardware isn't currently the problem with AI. Currently, the problem is just figuring out what the "I" in AI even means.

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vadim_t (324782) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @06:34PM (#33800856) Homepage

    Why doesn't that qualify as "building on"?

    Just that the looms didn't do any math doesn't mean they weren't a a programmable device. Surely realizing that a programmable mechanical machine can be built is one of the steps on the way of figuring out how to make a machine that can solve arbitrary problems.

    And can it be a complete coincidence that Babbage decided to use the same storage medium?

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.

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