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127 comments

wow (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797884)

maybe it's time to fix some problems instead of pissing into the wind

Sounds great (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797948)

The goal: inspire future generations of scientists to work on their own 100-year leaps.

So, make an impractical device which will only be constructed more than a century later by a self-absorbed blogger?

Where do I sign up?

Question: If we had such a computer, or artificial (1, Interesting)

joe2tiger (1883232) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797986)

Question: If we had such a computer, or artificial intelligence. Would we be aware of it’s existence? I am leading to the idea that our military intelligence would likely have AI and suppress any knowledge of it until it is leaked or we are ready. I like to think that we have the tech now for cars to drive themselves but our society isn’t ready for a leap, so we are getting slow introductions to it – i.e. Microsoft Sync that is only available to those who want to buy a new Ford

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

joe2tiger (1883232) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798018)

Excuse me, I was thinking in relation sense, if we had a sudden leap in computer technology. I can't edit my previous comment :(

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Offtopic)

Mike D. Kristopeit (1900568) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798038)

would this secretly existing machine be labeled as flawed if it chose to do nothing in the face of mutual assured destruction?

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798228)

MAD is necessarily a livelock. Therefore it would choose to build up both offensive and defensive systems to react and overcome the matched threat.

A system that decided to stop developing in a MAD situation would be buggy and irrational.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Offtopic)

Mike Da. Kristopeit (1905338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798370)

there is no overcoming true assuredness... you are denying the existence of a true MAD situation and instead countering a perceived potential threat. such countering actions could very well trigger the destruction you are acting to eliminate.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Offtopic)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798554)

Your assertion is false. Given that you cannot be sure your opponent will not make a first strike except for fear of retaliation, your force must be able to overcome any first strike and respond with enough force to destroy his. Therefore your strategy must be to protect against incoming attacks as well as overcoming enemy defenses. Since you cannot know exactly how your enemy is also progressing, it is absolutely imperative to 1) continue improving first strike capabilities to force the enemy to hold back on its first strike and 2) continue improving second strike capability in case the enemy decides to strike first.

What is false in your assertion is that there is such a thing as true assuredness. The program that decides such a thing exists and stops development and production of new weapons is buggy.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Offtopic)

Kristopeit, M. D. (1892582) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798642)

just because you decided to use an acronym doesn't change the "A" from representing the word "ASSURED", which i'll remind you does not include the possibility of falsehood.

if are now suggesting the destruction is NOT assured.

not only is your continued assertion false, and mine obviously correct, but YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Offtopic)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798706)

not only is your continued assertion false, and mine obviously correct, but YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

that part really adds a lots to your argument

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33798776)

I was on the fence, but once he pointed that out, how could I not agree? Well, if I was an IDIOT, too, I suppose I'd argue the point.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Offtopic)

vegiVamp (518171) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798984)

YOU ARE AN IDIOT is the new YOU ARE NOTHING, apparently.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33799004)

In Soviet Russia, destruction assures you!

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798714)

Even if the AI would be fully demonstrated to the public, it will be a long time before we will recognize that the computers we have are actually artificially intelligent. It's not hard to see why: think back to the 18th century with its thoughts on black people and today's discussion around what constitutes artificial intelligence. My AI prof summed it up nicely (in the last century, yikes): if it works, it's an engineering problem. If it doesn't work, it's an AI problem.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

bug1 (96678) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799142)

Imagine trying to explain to someone from the 18th century that we have a bodyless Intelligence lurking in the cloud, they would think we where talking about God.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798756)

isn’t ready for a leap.... i.e. Microsoft Sync

Don't you mean, stumble?

Haven't you heard the Microsoft Car jokes [lotsofjokes.com] ?

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799108)

isn’t ready for a leap.... i.e. Microsoft Sync

Don't you mean, stumble?

Haven't you heard the Microsoft Car jokes [lotsofjokes.com] ?

Jokes aside, the SYNC system is really nice

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798762)

Me too!

I also like to think that they are the ones who actually know the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices involved in the KFC chicken, but a majority of the people out there couldn't handle it if they knew it.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

SwordsmanLuke (1083699) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799104)

Yeah, we have the tech now for cars to drive themselves. I used to work for a robotics company and we made a number of vehicles that could drive themselves safely (for the most part, anyway).

Anyway, the main thing keeping autonomous cars off the roads today is not some secret government conspiracy, but cost. We built a car for the Darpa Urban Challenge which was capable of driving safely in normal traffic conditions at speeds up to 40mph (and several of our engineers felt confident that it could have handled itself safely all the way up to around 100mph!) The final cost of the car was a little over 1.5Million dollars. A good portion of that cost went into the varied and *extremely* expensive sensors the car required. Our main sensor sensor alone cost about $600,000!

We don't need society to "be ready" for autonomous cars - we need mass production of parts which are currently very, very specialized and costly.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799696)

Yeah, we have the tech now for cars to drive themselves. I used to work for a robotics company and we made a number of vehicles that could drive themselves safely (for the most part, anyway).

How well did your system handle pedestrian detection? Because, I recently (less than 2 years) attended a talk by someone from the Stanford autonomous cars lab. I was just about to get my license, so I asked if the system could pass the driving test. The answer was that it could not, because pedestrians would not be detected by the system. And that "for the most part, anyway" is trouble too.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800124)

I'm sure that if someone was going to order 10k of those sensors, they could get them made for $5k.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (3, Insightful)

melchoir55 (218842) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0, Redundant)

KliX (164895) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799670)

This may well be the most retarded slashdot comment I've read. Ever.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33799840)

" I am leading to the idea that our military intelligence would likely have AI "
Every one in the military know that everything they get is brand new and way better then what is available in the civilian market. Not only that but we all know about the extrodonory budgets the military have to randomly develope AI. The most impressive part is the militaries ability to not only keep it secret but to completely build it in house without contracting it out like it does with 100% of non AI IT projects.

" I like to think that we have the tech now for cars to drive themselves "
Since humans have perfected driving and perfected the art of teaching driving they now have the knowledge base to teach robots to drive just as well. Computers are getting good at driving cars, but I dont think you are interested in paying for one. Last I heard the robots for darpa driving challenges usually had 10s if not 100s of thousands of dollars worth of just optics.

" our society isn’t ready for a leap"
Yeah because if modern business has tought us anything is that coporations will completely hold back on making money to allow society to adjust to changes.

That is what I really like about this brave new world. Humans have perfected their own skills, coporations are thinking about the needs of society, and the government is good at keeping secrets.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800220)

The DARPA Grand challenge has been won (easily and quickly, I admit) only a few years ago. Give people some time to adapt it into new cars. It take around 5 years from a design concept to a production car.

Re:Question: If we had such a computer, or artific (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33800700)

military intelligence would likely have AI and suppress any knowledge of it until it is leaked or we are ready.

Assuming by "AI" you mean "HAL", I find it highly unlikely that the military or any other secret government agency would have it, let alone be able to keep a lid on it.

First, people aren't very good at keeping massive secrets.
Second, and most importantly, whlile it is true that governments employ some very smart people, and have access to some great resources. They don't have every smart person, or even a sizable minority, especially in computer science. No. If something like this would ever happen (and I kind of have my doubts, not necessarily for any metaphysical reasons, but rather for sheer practicality (i.e. no one would bother to even try), I would think it would come out of academia.
Third, since HAL AI is so difficult, and there are lots of smart people, if science got to the point where it was achievable and desirable, multiple people would notice that it was possible, and then multiple AIs would be created. Why? Because that's how it is with every scientific achievment.

No, Thanks, My Analytical Engine Is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33798028)

the ZX-81 [youtube.com] . I'm doing "scientific calculations" for Kim Jong Un.

Yours In Novosibirsk,
Kilgore Trout

Re:No, Thanks, My Analytical Engine Is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33800276)

Zee-Ex 81 God Fucking Damn it.

What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798080)

Is it the Internet?

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?

Several others: Transistors, Fire, Radio, Electricity, Walkman

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

forkfail (228161) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798124)

Maybe the Space shuttle, or the Apollo rockets.

We've shown that we can do it, but we just aren't pressing ahead (or lack the related technologies to do so).

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798348)

What is it you think that angry candles enable us to do?

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

forkfail (228161) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798562)

Space travel in general. I think that if we really pushed hard, we could be starting to look at manned ships at least to the asteroid belt, but we don't seem to have the drive/interest in doing so.

The Space Elevator and Fusion Power (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798384)

Neither is at all practical at the moment, but there's no reason they shouldn't work in theory, just like the analytical engine was in Babbage's day. And, like the engine, in 150 years, we'll be talking about how the idea changed everything.

Re:The Space Elevator and Fusion Power (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799128)

Neither is at all practical at the moment, but there's no reason they shouldn't work in theory, just like the analytical engine was in Babbage's day. And, like the engine, in 150 years, we'll be talking about how the idea changed everything.

fwiw, I *hope* that in 150 years I'll be able to talk :)

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798586)

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:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799156)

Fire and electricity were discovered, not invented..... and BEER.

"BEER", as we know it today, was certainly "invented" - but fermented sugars producing alcohol and being consumed was definitely a discovery

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798814)

By the equivalent of the "Analytical Engine" I assume you mean a project of such grand vision that it can never be completed with available resources. People try every century or so to resurrect the project, until they too run out of resources.

The Analytical Engine seems to meet that test. Two other projects also come immediately to mind:
  • The Cyc [wikipedia.org] project started by Doug Lenat in 1984. It tests the hypothesis that intelligence arises with sufficient knowledge of the world by parsing information taken from news sources. So far it hasn't produced intelligence, but maybe we just need to be patient.
  • The Clock of the Long Now [wikipedia.org] which seems destined to produce an infinite series of ever more beautiful and more expensive prototypes.

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (1)

Ksevio (865461) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799314)

I saw that clock prototype the other day, it was kind of a disappointment that a clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years wasn't even running.

The difference engine on the other hand was quite impressive to watch in action, I hope that someone can create a working Analytic engine for display as well.

Re:What is today's "Analytical Engine"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33798908)

What we're really taking about is what invention is about now that will be hugely useful in some form in the future, but is little known now, at a very early stage in it's development, or maybe just something completely overlooked.
If anyone is alive in 100 years I'm sure they'll be able too look back and see.

Then again, considering the development curve of technology and mankind, 100 years should possibly be scaled down to account for it.

Memristors could very well be massively game changing for I know.

Would be really cool to see it built. (1)

forkfail (228161) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798090)

Unfortunately, one of the patent warehouse companies now holds the patent to the machine, and is asking $37B for the rights....

Re:Would be really cool to see it built. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799140)

Fortunately patents last a mere 20 years and you can't patent a machine that was first designed 1837.

Re:Would be really cool to see it built. (2, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799978)

p'shaw! SCO will sell you a Open Babbageware license for a mere $699.

General purpose computing engine? (1)

Drenaran (1073150) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798118)

What sort of framerate can it run Crysis at?

Re:General purpose computing engine? (1)

joe2tiger (1883232) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798238)

What sort of framerate can it run Crysis at?

0 FPS, only because it would be annoyed at how unoptimized the code is. It would be so annoyed that it would rewrite the source into a preferred code, maybe CryEngine 4 and bypassing the new Crysis coming out

Re:General purpose computing engine? (1)

cowtamer (311087) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798354)

|What sort of framerate can it run Crysis at?

60 fps if you're willing to put up with a 1x1 pixel display...

Is it just me? (3, Insightful)

Colourspace (563895) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

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

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 3 years ago | (#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? (1)

Colourspace (563895) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798314)

Whose designs did he build on?

Re:Is it just me? (4, Informative)

darkstar949 (697933) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798416)

Jacquard looms [wikipedia.org] had been around for awhile and used punch cards to control how the machine operated. Likewise, changing the punch cards would allow for a different pattern to be made. However, these were by no means general purpose computers and were also not capable of preforming calculations.

Re:Is it just me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33798898)

not capable of preforming calculations

in that case, prithee, how did they turn the punch card pattern into a woolen? some form of non-computational witchcraft?

Re:Is it just me? (3, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798502)

Whose designs did he build on?

No ones. There will be ten posts listing jacquard looms, none of which do arithmetic or control flow beyond making a big ole loop.

There will be a couple posts about theoretical ideas that were eventually implemented in IBMs unit record punch card data processing gear. It only took half a century to implement his ideas in that regard.

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

vadim_t (324782) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800856)

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?

Re:Is it just me? (2, Informative)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798616)

By that argument, the Colossus and contemporaries were just a logical evolution of the telephone exchange.

I disagree. Babbage's ideas were out of the blue. So much so that in the 100 years following, no one working on the numerous calculator (and related) projects had the same idea. Babbage was working on a Turing-complete machine a century before Turing put that concept to paper.

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

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

Colourspace (563895) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798418)

A good point, as was BadAnalogyGuy's. I suppose the shiver comes from the possibility of how very different the last century could have been were his plans realised at the time. Of course, there are multiple universes to consider too.

Re: ___ years (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798622)

There's a mistake here.

He was only "100 years ahead of his time" because, er, well, 100 years passed. But he need not have been. Scientists say that sometimes "the mood of an age" is right for certain things to appear. So if some soft factors had gone the other way, he'd have only been 30 years ahead of his time.

Re: ___ years (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799010)

You mean sort of like how the facebook wouldn't exist if we had proper privacy regulations in place when it was being created? Now that's a scary thought.

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

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798696)

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.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800748)

My sister tells of passing a spool of thread around the room. If only they had invented the tin can then.

Re:Is it just me? (2, Interesting)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798744)

And it lends further credence to the fact that in order to have your genius recognized and have your ideas propagate, you need to know how to interact with people. Tesla is another example. Brilliance means nothing if no one understands you and no one wants to understand you.

Re:Is it just me? (2, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799074)

That's been pretty well established. Being brilliant is one thing, but it's extremely rare for an individual to get anything meaningful accomplished alone. At a bare minimum the process of procuring the resources to put it into place is nigh impossible. Let alone cases where you need others to help test the hypothesis.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798878)

The shocking thing about this whole story is that in retrospect, his idea seems obvious and is scientifically sound, but was ignored.

It is 1837.

Precision manufacturing is in its infancy, Complex mechanisms are difficult to build and maintain.

The only immeadiate need for a "computer" is in the construction of more accurate mathematical tables.

But the need for greater precision there is similiarly limited by your abilty to make any practical use of it.

Re:Is it just me? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33799660)

"It's just you"</polite_sarcasm>

The 'little guy inventor' ignored by the establishment and 'ahead of his time' is perhaps the strongest cliche in popular-science writing.

Particularly in Popular Science. Here -- enjoy the archives. [popsci.com] I grew up with a molding pile of these extending back to the 30s. I doubt you can find any issue without this trope, and likely more than 3 times in each.

While I can understand where it comes from and why it's popular (every engineer has a PHB), the trouble is it encourages glossing over real problems and gives crackpots far too much traction.

The problem being glossed over here, pointed out below [slashdot.org] , is we cannot build a defensibly accurate Analytical Engine. This problem was thoroughly examined by no less than Doron Swade who built the Difference Engine.

I heartily recommend reading his book. Also there's two or three similar hour-long lectures online to whet your appetite. I recommend the one given to Google engineers. Doron's just great. It's a real missed opportunity that BBC didn't have him do a TV series on the history and the project.

Babbage wasn't overlooked. He blew his reputation. (5, Interesting)

Ga_101 (755815) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800320)

There is a great difference between somebody who had a great idea, but was overlooked and somebody who blew it.

Babbage was the latter.

When he showed people a small prototype of his difference engine, they knew exactly what kind of potential it had. The TFA even said that the government backed him. I'll stop the press and let that sink in. The British government knew at the time just what a game changer this could have been. What TFA article doesn't say is the extent to which they backed him. In the prices of the day, they invested the equivalent of a fully kitted out and manned battleship in the project. A battleship. What happened?

Babbage squandered the money, fell out with every metal-smith in the country capable of building the difference engine and committed the ultimate crime of changing his mind and plans time and time and time again. Sure, he had a lot of plans for the Analytical engine, but he couldn't stay focused/act civilly enough to build the machine everybody wanted to begin with. After such an investment and nothing to show for it, nobody would give him the time of day, let alone commission him to build an even more complex machine with an unfinished design.

It could be said, rather than a man who had a great idea that wasn't realised. Babbage had a great idea that he killed so badly via his own incompetence, nobody touched it for another 100 years.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800674)

The shocking thing about this whole story is that in retrospect, his idea seems obvious and is scientifically sound, but was ignored.

Well, no, not really. He was funded until the people funding him realized he wasn't actually producing anything but vaporware - then he was ignored. His reputation has been enhanced posthumously because we eventually did build computers (making his seem 'obvious and scientifically sound' by comparison) even though he never actually built anything.
 

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.

Except he didn't actually do anything except produce reams and reams of sketches that might someday be worked into a usable design along with a handful of random prototypes of parts that might someday be incorporated into a finished machine.
 
TFA considerably overstates the situation. There isn't an Analytical Engine to be built - because there is no complete design for any single major component of the machine. If you think of the Engine as the Duke Nukem Forever of mechanical computing, you won't be far off the mark.

Much more... (3, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798248)

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:Much more... (0, Redundant)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800234)

How did this idiot get modded insightful? Just because he posted early?

More like nobody else gives a damn about this kinda thing.

Analytical Engine: No Definitive Design Exists (5, Interesting)

wintermute1974 (596184) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798302)

Doron Swade who wrote "The Difference Engine" (the non-fiction book, not the steampunk fiction by Gibson and Sterling) can tell you this:
It's not possible to create The Analytical Engine. Why? Because Babbage never stopped creating the designs. There is no one clean, complete set of designs for the Analytical Engine.

If someone were to build it, they would first have to pick and choose from among Babbage's numerous sketches, then fill in any of the missing bits. It's not a true, 100% authentic, Babbage design, unlike the simpler Difference Engine, which had a clean set of engineering drawings for its creation.

Re:Analytical Engine: No Definitive Design Exists (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798578)

You mean he anticipated Versioning!

"There is no Definitive Firefox! They keep changing it!"

Re:Analytical Engine: No Definitive Design Exists (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33798710)

Yes, that's why the first step is "Figure out what the Analytical Engine is". The idea is that they would look over old drawings, use them where they make sense, and fill in the missing bits with whatever would have been available at the time. It would be *an* Analytical Engine rather than *the* Analytical Engine.

dom

Re:Analytical Engine: No Definitive Design Exists (3, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799324)

Yes just the requirement for simulating it and debugging it says to me that Babbage didn't finish his machine. It smacks of when Bell and Curtis "debugged" Langley's aerodrome to show that he really "invented" the airplane first.
As it is Babbage is known as the father of Computers which he does deserve. Just the fact that he dreamed up this massive machine when he did shows what a great mind he had.
Now building one is a great idea. Shouldn't be too hard to simulate with modern cad and then use rapid prototyping to make the parts.

Re:Analytical Engine: No Definitive Design Exists (1)

erichill (583191) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800724)

John Mauchly [wikipedia.org] , who knew a thing or two on the subject, made the same observation in a conversation that touched on the issue. It wasn't so much that Babbage was pushing the day's technology too far, he just never froze his design.

An emulator is available (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798824)

There's an Analytical Engine emulator [fourmilab.ch] available. It's a Java applet.

There's no fundamental obstacle to making a working replica, other than money.

Re:An emulator is available (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33800554)

Great! Except I can't anywhere in that awful website where I can actually run the applet in my browser. Apparently the author forgot that small detail.

Modern day overlooked technologies? (1)

Guppy (12314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33798910)

Hmm... modern examples of overlooked technologies? Well, an emerging example might be the Memristor [wikipedia.org] . Proposed in 1971, it wasn't until very recently that a practical example was constructed; it remains to be seen if they will remain niche curiosities, or become a common part of common electronic designs.

It has been built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33798978)

http://acarol.woz.org/difference_engine.html

Re:It has been built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33799704)

King Arthur: What?
Sir Galahad: He said they've already got one!
King Arthur: Are you sure he's got one?
French Soldier: Oh yes, it's very nice!

Re:It has been built (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800260)

That's the difference engine, and scaled down at that. Very different from analytical engine :)

Maybe could have been built different? (2, Interesting)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#33799348)

What I sometimes wonder in hindsight, is could Babbage's machines have been built with the technologies of the time using different techniques that would have been more easy to achieve. He was always pushing the envelope of machining technology with axles and gears, partly in an effort to gain speed. (For example, in the difference engine the gear system had a very complex look-ahead carry feature to make it much faster.) The machines required very tight tolerances and a good deal of force to operate.

Gears work mostly on compressive forces. If instead he had built a machine based mostly on tension, like pulling strings wrapped around wheels and cogs, would the machines have been more practical to build? The machines might have been one or two orders of magnitude slower. However, the problems he was after, like computing logarithm tables, are highly parallelizable. Instead of trying to create one super machine (and never succeeding), would he have been better off with making a bunch of much slower, easier to build machines?

Re:Maybe could have been built different? (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800020)

can't envision what you are describing, please explain a simple operation (adding one and one) with your string tension machine?

Re:Maybe could have been built different? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800792)

An example would be to implement a binary full adder. (Babbage used straight decimal operations on his gears, but I remember seeing somewhere that he was at least aware of binary logic.)

I haven't really put that much thought into it, but I could imagine having 2 master actuators that act like "clocks" over the whole machine. A full adder might have three plates or levers shaped so that each input can pull it into a certain position. The first master clock would actuate a logic operation, shifting two output mechanisms based on the adder function and the three inputs. The second master clock would cause the outputs to pull on strings or wires and transfer the result to the next adder. The net result would be a bit-serial adder, computing one bit for each pair of clock transitions. (In a difference engine, all the adders might naturally pipeline together neatly for efficiency.)

Re:Maybe could have been built different? (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#33800802)

His machines could have been built in his time with his technologies. The problem was just that doing so would have taken a *lot* of time -- dozens of man-years of work. He was coming up with additions and modifications ten times as fast as the manufacturing capability of the time could produce.

The bearings of the time were primitive: a lot of machinery was still using greased leather in a compressable joint, and only the nicest equipment used plain bronze sleeve bearings. The gears were not precisely formed so there was a lot of friction between them. A major problem would have been the heat from friction, and the amount of power required to drive the machine against its internal friction, exceeding the mechanical strength of the components. You can to some extent solve the former by just running it slowly. You can to some extent solve the latter by lapping gears against each other with very fine grinding compound between the teeth. They knew these things -- they were custom-lapping threaded shafts to excellent tolerances at the time, for use as master threads in thread-cutting machines -- but the designs Babbage was coming up with would have required a very significant manufacturing effort, that would've required the output of dozens of factories, and there wasn't any obvious reason to make that effort.

I have a watchmaker's lathe built roughly in 1840, and I'm amazed how precisely they could make things back then almost entirely by hand. Ramsden and Maudsley were building stuff even more accurate before 1800.

Someone has to say it: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33800230)

37647 storage locations ought to be enough for everyone!

Now cue the beowulf cluster jokes...

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