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Wed Oct 24, 2012, 02:55 PM

Could This Have Been The World's First Computer?




One of 250 drawings made by Charles Babbage of his 'analytical engine.' © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Timelines of computer history usually take us back to the early 20th century and no further. But believe it or not, a tinkerer named Charles Babbage got close enough to creating the world’s first computer in 1837. Babbage called his machine the “analytical engine” and it would have been the size of a small locomotive, powered by steam. He wrote thousands of pages of notes and 250 drawings, but it never got close to being built — until now.

Today a few of his modern-day contemporaries are raising money to work off Babbage’s original plans and build his “analytical engine,” using tools and processes from the time he was alive. That was a good century before Alan Turing kicked off what we now call the computer age.

more

http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2012/10/24/could-this-have-been-the-worlds-first-computer/

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Arrow 18 replies Author Time Post
Reply Could This Have Been The World's First Computer? (Original post)
n2doc Oct 2012 OP
xchrom Oct 2012 #1
littlemissmartypants Oct 2012 #2
dimbear Oct 2012 #18
Jackpine Radical Oct 2012 #3
bongbong Oct 2012 #5
Jackpine Radical Oct 2012 #7
littlemissmartypants Oct 2012 #14
Jackpine Radical Oct 2012 #15
leveymg Oct 2012 #4
Jackpine Radical Oct 2012 #8
leveymg Oct 2012 #11
friendly_iconoclast Oct 2012 #13
DetlefK Oct 2012 #16
Warpy Oct 2012 #6
Jackpine Radical Oct 2012 #9
muriel_volestrangler Oct 2012 #10
hunter Oct 2012 #12
WCGreen Oct 2012 #17

Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 02:58 PM

1. Huh. I'll be. Nt

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Response to littlemissmartypants (Reply #2)

Sun Oct 28, 2012, 08:22 PM

18. It's an interesting coincidence that folks are right now rediving that area looking for more.

Obviously that particular machine wouldn't have been first, as it is very complex indeed. Clearly the actual first one is lost forever.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 03:08 PM

3. Without belittling Babbage's ideas, my vote for oldest computer goes here:




http://www.etl.uom.gr/mr/Antikythera/400X300%20ERSA%20New%201.5.rar

This mechanism is a clocklike astronomical computer dating from 87BC (2,000 yrs old), which was found on a ship that sank off the island of Antikythera (Greece) about 76BC. It was rediscovered in 1901. Studies of the mechanism shows that it was used to calculate the motions of stars and planets. Only about 20 of the gearwheels are preserved assembling to a differential gear-system. The whole mechanism was in a box, to protect the wheels and Greek inscriptions on every available space on the inside of the box were instructions to its assembly. A worthwhile moving demonstration can be found at this website: http://etl.uom.gr/mr/Antikythera/640X480.html.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #3)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 03:39 PM

5. Lego

 

Sombody built a Lego version of the Antikythera machine.

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Response to bongbong (Reply #5)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 04:10 PM

7. I bet there's a vid online somewhere.

For some reason, that device has always fascinated me.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #7)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 05:58 AM

14. Must have me on ignore

I posted the video.

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Response to littlemissmartypants (Reply #14)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 10:29 AM

15. No, just not smart enough to look at earlier posts.

Actually, I don't have anyone on Ignore.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 03:09 PM

4. There's a whole genre of "steampunk" SF novels aboout Babbage's computer, and alternative histories

of what might have been if automated data processing had gotten started 100 years earlier.

A world of computers the size of skyscrapers and nanosteam engines. No gasoline or Middle East-centric foreign conflicts. Interesting stuff.

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Response to leveymg (Reply #4)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 04:11 PM

8. William Gibson, iirc.

Writing much-admired among the clackers.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #8)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 04:47 PM

11. "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." - wg eom

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #8)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 10:28 PM

13. Ah, you read "The Difference Engine" as well...

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Response to friendly_iconoclast (Reply #13)

Thu Oct 25, 2012, 11:13 AM

16. Many have...

All those explanations about mechanical computers were as fascinating as the plot.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 03:46 PM

6. I remember a mechanical calculator about half the size

of the boss's desk back in the early 60s that would multiply, divide and extract square roots. It was a horribly cumbersome thing, took muscle power to work and sounded like jackhammers on oil drums when you pulled it's handle to get a result.

I'm wondering if Babbage's computer is a similar thing, scaled up and with a steam engine assist.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #6)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 04:14 PM

9. Sort of.

We used those machines in my undergrad statistics courses. The procedure for square roots was less than straightforward, to the point that it was easier to successively approximate: take a guess, square it, see how close you got, & try again. I performed so many calculations on those old bombers that to this day I can guess the sqrt of any number within about 5% or less. I sometimes do it as a party trick among geeks.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #6)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 04:23 PM

10. Babbage's analytical engine was programmable, which also made it more than the Antikythera mechanism

Charles Babbage developed the analytical engine project after an earlier computing project the difference engine that Babbage started in 1822. The difference engine could solve polynomial equations using a numerical method called the "method of differences". However, the analytical engine was the first general computational device, with the ability to solve different types of equations. The use of punch cards to record a program was inspired by the Jacquard loom, which used similar punch cards to control the pattern being woven by the loom.

http://inventors.about.com/od/bstartinventors/a/Charles_Babbage.htm


Programs for The Analytical Engine were to be punched on pasteboard Jacquard cards. Babbage envisioned three different kinds of cards, each with its own independent reader:

Operation Cards
These cards correspond to the “operation codes” in the instruction set of modern computers. They consist of operations which command the Mill to perform the various arithmetic operations: Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division, and Combinatorial Cards which, in conjunction with Index Cards advance or back the chain of cards in the reader; these correspond to the jump/branch and loop control instructions of today's computers.

Number Cards
These cards supply numerical constants punched upon them to the Store as required. The ability to load number cards permits more constants to be used in a computation than can be contained in the Store. Number cards are usually the result of previous calculations and punched by the Card Punching Apparatus. Immediate load instructions provide this function in present-day computers.

Variable Cards
Variable cards direct the transfer of values from the Store into the Mill to serve as arguments to an operation, and the transfer of the result of a computation by the Mill back to one or more locations in the Store. A Variable card can, when transferring a value to the Mill, either zero the column in the Store or leave it as before.

http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/cards.html

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #10)

Wed Oct 24, 2012, 05:28 PM

12. An Emulator... love it.

My desktop has emulators for every computer I've owned or worked with.

I'm not sure I want to program a Babbage Analytical Engine, but it's nice to know I could.

http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/applet.html

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat Oct 27, 2012, 10:18 AM

17. When I took my introduction to Computers back in 1985....

They brought the Babbage machine up and we talked about it before we spent 2 hours writing code to ask and answer demographic in basic language.

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