The Difference Engine

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Charles Babbage, the English mathematician, inventor and engineer, designed two devices in the 1820s and 30s - the Analytical Engine and the Difference Engine.  The Difference Engine, the first device he designed, was basically a mechanical calculator.  The Analytical Engine was never completed.  If it had been, it would have been the world's first mechanical computer, a full century ahead of modern computers.  Given its mechanical nature, it is very steampunk in nature.



Two noted science fiction authors, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, released in 1990 The Difference Engine, an alternate history novel looking at the way history may have gone if the Analytical Engine had actually been built.  How would the Victorian Times have been effected by a working mechanical computer?  What would the implications be of the early introduction of computational technology?

The story explores that world as a series of characters search for a set of powerful computer punch cards, and meets with such notable historical figures as Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and by some considered the world's first computer programmer.

2 comments:

Overtthinker said...

Glad you mentioned Ada Lovelace!
Have you come across Neal Stephenson's Baroque trilogy? He pushes punch cards back seventeenth century London - still very swash-buckling.

Andrew Warwick said...

I havent. Ill have to check it out at some stage.

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