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The Greatest Machine Never Built

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the oldest-school dept.

Hardware 132

mikejuk writes "John Graham-Cumming is the leading light behind a project to actually build the analytical engine dreamed of by Charles Babbage. There is a tendency to think that everything that Babbage thought up was little more than a calculating machine, but as the video makes 100% clear the analytical engine was a real computer that could run programs. From the article: 'Of course Ada Lovelace was the first programmer, but more importantly her work with Babbage took the analytical engine from the realms of mathematical table construction into the wider world of non-mathematical programming. Her notes indicate that had the machine been built there is no question that it would have been exploited just as we use silicon-based machines today. To see the machine built and running programs would be the final proof that Babbage really did invent the general purpose computer in the age of the steam engine.'"

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I DONE BETTER !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39837887)

And lots better at that !!

Move on now. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39837897)

How much more of the 'machine' do we need to hear. I believe anyone who sets out to build YAAM (figure it out) should do it in the privacy of his own home and NOT tell anyone. Well ok, maybe his kids. That's it.

It's much hyped and much over rated.

And you know, I DID NOT read the article nor click the video. I just read the line .... analytical machine and a rush of millions of stories passed through my head with similar 'achievements' or pseudo achievements. It was one machine... many others like it were being built. This one caught traction because the media/historic writing was on it's side. But come on... there is a lot more that can and should be done with your time.

Re:Move on now. (4, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838009)

It was one machine... many others like it were being built. This one caught traction because the media/historic writing was on it's side.

What? Who else was designing a turing complete computer in the 1830s? I haven't heard of them.

What if... (4, Interesting)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838127)

A nice "what if" novel was written by Gibson and Sterling, based on a posited successful adoption of the difference engine [amazon.co.uk] in Victorian times. It's classed as Sci Fi, but is more of a novel set in an alternative history. Definitely worth reading.

Re:What if... (4, Informative)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838537)

For those who want to learn about that book instead of just buying it, here's a better link. [wikipedia.org]

Re:What if... (2)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838821)

It's classed as Sci Fi, but is more of a novel set in an alternative history.

Replace "but" with "and". Most alternative history stories are science fiction, and this one is no exception. Neither the word "science" nor "fiction" imply that a story is necessarily set in the future, it's just merely the most common case. Not only is The Difference Engine science fiction, it's arguably hard-SF.

Re:What if... (1)

Rhinobird (151521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39842025)

See also Philip K Dick's "The Man in the High Castle".

Re:What if... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39839355)

For a funny view on the subject, you also might try

http://sydneypadua.com/2dgoggles/

Re:What if... (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 2 years ago | (#39843203)

A nice "what if" novel was written by Gibson and Sterling, based on a posited successful adoption of the difference engine [amazon.co.uk] in Victorian times. It's classed as Sci Fi, but is more of a novel set in an alternative history. Definitely worth reading.

Somewhere in an alternate steampunk universe there is a nice "What if?" novel about the inventors of silicon transistor computers, in a alternate history where babbage's machine was never built. They call us silipunks.

Re:Move on now. (5, Funny)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838147)

That is because Samuel William Jefferson, who invented the computer and build one, also invented the time machine in 1827.
In 2079 his great-great-great-great-grandson, Hydro Jefferson, had an argument with his girlfriend about a cupcake (or a dancer called C-Cups. The books are unsure about that.)
She then went back in time and killed S.W. Jefferson as a little baby.

Whose opinions are they refuting? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39837905)

There is a tendency to think that everything that Babbage thought up was little more than a calculating machine

By whom? I have never heard the analytical engine described in terms like that.

Re:Whose opinions are they refuting? (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39837955)

Yeah, I'm not quite sure where they got that from, unless it's based on popular confusion with the Difference Engine, an earlier design that could not do general-purpose, programmable computation.

Babbage as a forerunner of modern computing isn't a recent acknowledgement either: many of the digital-computing pioneers explicitly referenced him, and compared their work to his, usually viewing his work favorably and chalking up its failures to practical implementation problems, not severe drawbacks in the design. Here's [google.com] a 1958 article in New Scientist crediting Babbage, which even includes a table comparing the Analytical Engine with EDSAC [wikipedia.org] .

The only serious controversy I know of is whether the design could've been built with technology of the time, not whether the design itself was sound. See e.g. this 1998 journal article [univr.it] , particularly p. 34 (6th page of the PDF), which concludes that it could probably have been built, though it would've been quite expensive and required the top machining abilities of the day.

Re:Whose opinions are they refuting? (3, Insightful)

mikejuk (1801200) | more than 2 years ago | (#39837999)

The non-expert thinks that mechanical computer = calculating machine

I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (5, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838045)

A lot happened in the first part of the Victorian era in the UK - I am referencing the UK because (a) that's where Babbage was and (b) I know a little of the history. This was a period when blacksmith engineering was rapidly giving way to scientific engineering. In essence, just as now with silicon, engineering techniques were developing fast as a response to new requirements for precision and metallurgy. So "the technology of the time" would itself have been different if the Government of the day had grasped just what it had, and made a real push for it. I would go out on a limb and suggest that if Prince Albert hadn't died when he did, the Analytical Engine would probably have been built. He was a major proponent of technical development and ruffled a lot of Establishment (classically educated) figures, but his Great Exhibition was a huge success. He died in 1861, in his early 40s. Babbage in 1871.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838461)

I think that if the British Navy had had half a clue as to what Babbage's work could produce for them, it would have thrown what was then the most substantial military resources in the world at it, and the computing revolution would have happened in Victorian Britain.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (2)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838659)

if the British Navy had had half a clue

The last time that happened, Sir Francis Drake was in charge.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (3, Insightful)

_Shad0w_ (127912) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838703)

The Royal Navy frequently has a clue, the MOD and government in general, does not.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (2)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839123)

The Royal Navy frequently has a clue, the RAF complain, and the MoD tell the Royal Navy to stop buying better planes than the idiots at the air force....

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (3, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838839)

Look at the other research the Admiralty funded back then - timekeeping (pocket watches), astronomical calculatons (octants, sextants and easy to use calculation tables), tide calculstions, leading to signal processing and Fourier transforms, fluid dynamics and Navier Stokes equations.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (1)

findoutmoretoday (1475299) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839093)

In the meantime the Royal Navy, and more successful others, put considerable resources and 40 years to develop smokeless powder.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (-1, Troll)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839045)

So "the technology of the time" would itself have been different if the Government of the day had grasped just what it had, and made a real push for it.

- it's a good thing they didn't.

So more people would have to pay more taxes just so that government could have another program to run? An extremely difficult to build with the technologies of the time machinery of dubious value to the ordinary people of the time just so that the government could have more war related tools at its disposal? Better navigation and better gun aiming tools I bet.

Thank you Charles Babbage, but thank you also for not being able to convince any government that your work should have been funded by the taxes.

Dear Roman Mir, (4, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839185)

Please go and learn some actual British history, including the history of technology, before posting any more of your Cato Institute bunkum. Were you to do so, you would discover that the early technical lead of the British, due largely to non-university educated Dissenting craftsmen, was lost later in the 19th century because of a failure to make practical use of the theoretical work done in the universities. By the start of WW1, Germany had better explosives, better shells, better rangefinding and aiming equipment, better artillery, and arguably better logistics. "Better navigation and better gun aiming tools" for the British armed forces would have been a bloody good start towards ending WW1 in 1916 when a reasonable peace was still possible.

I think I'll take my chances with Government and taxes versus Libertarians and giant corporations, thank you. I can at least vote for Governments and pay an accountant to ensure I don't pay too much tax. But in your world, where the price of food and oil is set by whoever can buy up all of it and dole it out at will, I don't have a vote.

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (-1, Offtopic)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839245)

What you call 'failure to make practical use of the theoretical work' - I call market at the time deciding that the spending on these programs was not worth the effort.

People are free to dissent, I suppose you'd impose your world view on them, forcing them to do as you please rather than what they believed was in their best interest, rightly or wrongly from you POV, from their POV it was their freedom, and freedom trumps anything else, AFAIC.

The wars, by the way, were caused by governments, not by individual entrepreneurs, neither then, nor today. I take my chances with free market, at least it is not going to push the world into another war.

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39839383)

The wars, by the way, were caused by governments, not by individual entrepreneurs, neither then, nor today. I take my chances with free market, at least it is not going to push the world into another war.

Oh, I think a certain Mr. Hearst [wikipedia.org] knew how the free market could push a country to war [wikipedia.org]

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (0)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839727)

People don't go to wars, governments go to wars. Governments pursue their agenda, governments steal money, governments start the wars and then people are forced to participate and die in them, dear AC.

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (1)

AquaDuck (2115608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839831)

I take my chances with free market, at least it is not going to push the world into another war.

Yes, because two media moguls would never twist news coverage to force a government into a war it didn't want just to feed their circulation rivalry.

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (0)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839877)

Yes, because two media moguls would never twist news coverage to force a government into a war it didn't want just to feed their circulation rivalry.

- there wouldn't even be those media moguls, were it not for government creating all sorts of barriers to entry to help those very 'media moguls' in the first place, and secondly again: without government there are no wars. No person starts a war, a government starts a war. Government steals your money and sends you or others to war to kill other people, while it's really a government fighting against another government with blood and money of people who don't want to be in these wars.

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39840291)

No person starts a war, a government starts a war.

Just to Goodwin the thread properly, you're saying that Hitler didn't start WW2 ?

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39840391)

you're saying Hitler wasn't government?

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39842737)

Hitler was a person, I've seen the news reels.

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39842991)

So Hitler wasn't government? OK, he wasn't the top official in the government at the time?

Re:Dear Roman Mir, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39841111)

You clearly have no clue about what a libertarian is, and you obviously have no interest in learning.

And libertarians also have no interest in informing you about it (or what in your post is incorrect), either. It makes it easier for us to avoid the red coats.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#39840165)

Thank you Charles Babbage, but thank you also for not being able to convince any government that your work should have been funded by the taxes.

How cute, a Luddite with Libertarian glesses.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39840607)

To be fair, the British government did throw a lot of money at Babbage. Over half a million pounds, which is equivalent to several billions in today's money, for his "difference engine". At the time, the Royal Navy could have had more than 20 new frigates for that sort of money. The engine was never delivered.

The issue was the precision with which the parts had to be made. Nowadays, that's not really a limiting factor, but in the 1840s it meant that a single spindle or latch could take days of work and rework, and even then you wouldn't really be sure until you could test a whole assembly, and when that (inevitably) failed to work, it was an incredibly laborious process to work out which particular part was causing it.

You can't really blame the government of the day for not throwing yet more money down that particular black hole.

Re:I'm not sure it is even a controversy any more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39842479)

The issue was the precision with which the parts had to be made.

I thought that was shown to be a non-issue? Wasn't the bigger concern Babbage's dispute with his engineer over the tools or something like that?

Re:Whose opinions are they refuting? (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839419)

Now that would be seriously steampunk

Re:Whose opinions are they refuting? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39840053)

Yeah, I'm not quite sure where they got that from, unless it's based on popular confusion with the Difference Engine, an earlier design that could not do general-purpose, programmable computation.

Right, few people know he designed 2 separate machines.

erm.. it was built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39837943)

it was built in the 90s by the British science museum, I saw it years ago

Re:erm.. it was built (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39837975)

You're probably thinking of the Difference Engine that the London Science Museum built in 1991 [sciencemuseum.org.uk] (output mechanism added in 2000). Afaik nobody's constructed an Analytical Engine, which is considerably more complex to build.

Re:erm.. it was built (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838247)

To expand: the Difference Engine is a digital computer, but it's a special purpose one, like a simple calculator, except made out of gears and cogs. It can do certain mathematical calculations which had previously been laborious and error-prone. The government wanted a Difference Engine to make tables for indirect fire with guns, these tables (previously calculated by hand), allow you to hit things far away on the first shot if you know how far away exactly they are. The Difference Engine's promise was fulfilled actually just a few decades or so after it had been conceived, mechanical computers became quite widespread and only died out when the transistor made them uneconomic in the late 20th century.

The Analytical Engine is a general purpose computer. It can work on any computable problem. Nobody ever built anything like that, the first general purpose computers were electronic.

Re:erm.. it was built (1)

kamapuaa (555446) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838329)

Mechanical computers didn't become "quite widespread" until WW2.

Re:erm.. it was built (3, Informative)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838393)

Or, to simplify; the difference engine is a caclulator, and one has been built. The analytical engine is a turing-complete computer, and one has not been built.

Re:erm.. it was built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39837981)

You might have seen the construction of the Difference Engine, the TED video mentions in passing. The current project is for the Analytical Engine.

Re:erm.. it was built (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838725)

Of course Babbage could have started off on a completely different tack, and succeeded.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006QMT7FA [amazon.com]

Re:erm.. it was built (1)

Goatboy (22601) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839175)

Of course Babbage could have started off on a completely different tack, and succeeded.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006QMT7FA [amazon.com]

The first sentence of this book confuses the Difference Engine with the Analytical Engine - not a great start.

Re:erm.. it was built (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838019)

The one in the British museum is a partial model. Or possibly you saw the difference engine, which looks similar.

Re:erm.. it was built (1)

johnb10001 (604626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838087)

They built a second Difference Engine that is currently on loan to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. CA. I hope they get an Analytical Engine in the future. http://www.computerhistory.org/ [computerhistory.org]

Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39837967)

Can't we just 3D print in orbit or something? You know, get private space involved here?

Interesting (4, Funny)

heptapod (243146) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838001)

But now we can build computers within computer programs with redstone. Babbage never had redstone.

Re:Interesting (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838173)

I get the feeling that if the AE is ever built in minecraft, it'll run slower than it's real-life counterpart.

Redstone is *not* fast.

Re:Interesting (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838299)

we've been able to build computers within computers for decades. And, are you implying the Analytical Engine could not virtualize itself if one built with big enough "store"? seems to be a matter of just working within a given offset within the store for each virtual AE for each instruction/data stream for of the three card readers.

CB = "the classic nerd" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838057)

When the speaker on the TED video described Babbage as the kind of nerd who never finished projects because he kept stumbling on something new and exciting to pursue, I thought of this guy. [wikipedia.org]

It'll never happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838065)

From tfa:
    "The project hopes to have a working machine before the 2030s."

The Greatest Machine Never Built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838091)

Based on the title I hoped they found the John Galt electrical motor...

Re:The Greatest Machine Never Built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838503)

There are many contenders for that title, for example the Superconducting Super Collider [wikipedia.org] which was planned in 1983 and cancelled in 1993 with a projected cost of $12 billion. Why is Babbage's machine greater?

Women and computers (-1, Troll)

Velex (120469) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838201)

It's more likely that Lovelace was simply paraphrasing things Babbage had discussed with her. In the real world, females view mathematics as rape and don't understand why there's a computer on their desk. I've yet to meet a female who can even comprehend the basic features of a word processor such as tabstops or using 1st and 2nd level headings to organize the typo-ridden, disjointed, grammar catastrophe their vaginas vomit up on to a page.

Women don't /want/ to be equal. What they want is to be able to have a baby whenever they choose, and it doesn't matter what guy donates the genetic material necessary, just so long as they can make him look like a creep and a rapist so the child support checks will just flow in. Then they call this "good, christian family values."

Women know they can get most guys to just cave in to their every whim, and that's all that happened between Lovelace and Babbage. She probably gave him a good load of bullshit, just enough to trick him into thinking that she actually understood anything she was taking about. Of course, it was probably to Babbage's advantage anyway to make it look like a female could understand anything not related to motherhood.

Females can get equal pay when they're able to perform equal work. This myth about the first programmer being a woman is just yet another cudgel that females use to try to guilt trip men into giving them more and more handouts.

Well, ladies, you can bitch about it all you want, but they pay me because I make computers do things. You females, apparently, cannot, and that's why you don't get the job. You can call sexism and other hysterics all you want, but at the end of the day, the computer either goes or it doesn't, and you can either go through hundreds of items by hand to create the report the client wants or you can realize that a computer can do it in a matter of seconds. Even if you can't comprehend how the computer produces the answer for me and not for you, you females have to admit that at the end of the day, an employer would rather pay me 133% of your wages because you're only 75% as productive as me.

More men are starting to realize that, and we're getting tired of listening to your bullshit. The computer doesn't care what body parts its operator has no matter how loudly you want to bitch and moan that the gender of the person sitting in front of the computer is what's making it either work or not.

Re:Women and computers (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838245)

Roflwaffles bitter much? Sounds like you lost a job to a woman and your baby mama has your checks for child support. I know plenty of female programmers who are brilliant and alot of the time moreso than I.

Re:Women and computers (1, Offtopic)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838249)

Wow, somebody really needs to get laid.

Re:Women and computers (-1, Offtopic)

Velex (120469) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838325)

Been there, done that. It's not worth it. Men like you just need to stop making excuses for females. Maybe you should go get laid. You can come back when both your heart and your bank account are broken.

Re:Women and computers (-1, Offtopic)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838605)

Judging from your comment, I'm not surprised that she left you.

Re:Women and computers (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838263)

You are not a talented computer programmer. You are not well read about computing. You haven't met many good computer programmers, and if you had you'd have met talented female programmers.

I'm not a talented programmer, but I can at least go to Wikipedia and find a list of female programmes who got into the history books.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_computing#Timeline_of_women_in_computing

You say women don't know computers. Women are, believe it or not, Turing compatible with men.

Re:Women and computers (0)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838501)

Go to a few eastern european university math departments. You'll find ladies who won't only beat you at, say, analysis or algebra, but will probably be a treat to look at. I've had a calculus recitation with lady who easily made heads turn, and she knew her stuff cold. Alas, in science, a lot is a paraphrase. Few people bothered to rederive everything they used, because few had the capacity, discipline and throughput to do so. Feynman was one such man, but I'm sure you'd find a proportional number of women who pulled it off as well. I went to college with a girl with a body to kill for who was quite Feynman-esque in that way: to understand almost anything, she had to work it out on her own.

Parent poster has women issues. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838567)

Wow, that is the most sexist thing I've seen on /. More and more women are in CS degree programs; its not 50/50 but it is no longer just 1 per class. They do as well as the men; the ones with kids tend to not do as well, but then that seems to be a problem with the men with kids too. I'd say kids seems to impact women more than men. Culturally and biologically, the women will prioritize the kids higher than the men over college work. The difference I perceive is so little its more of a guess on my part. The women do let you know they have kids right away while the men with kids may never bring it up; not as an excuse but because women seem to make the kids part of their identity so its almost like another part of their name. Young women and young men are equally poor students; I'd say the young women who feel secure with their boyfriend are better; while the young men do not seem to improve with a steady partner.

Older women of previous generations are a REAL problem; they were raised with mental blocks while the men of that age may also have issues but they feel like they should "get it" at least to some degree simply because they are a man. Culture taught that men are naturally inclined for that stuff, not true but it works on them. Racism may have no basis in science but the genders are extremely different. Gender differences are greater than ANY racial differences and the difference is so obvious that makes all that equality stuff seem stupid; especially if you live with the opposite sex - you have to see it. The brains evolved differently for the two genders; if women were shunned for thinking extremely enough and early enough then they would be less intelligent.... I am not sure how we could have possibly evolved with a great difference in intelligence between genders.

That is not how it worked which is why women are just as smart and men are blinded by their sex drive TODAY. This still gives women undue power over men and protects them to some degree (another reason why smart ones would do better.) Men will settle for any women who can have their children, their drive is all about mass production. Feel lucky that you didn't evolve more male related features like other animals, such as those who leave a plug in the female (the tip of their tool breaks off in the female.)

Women seem to have a social IQ higher than men, possibly because of their evolved situation but it is not so great that some men can't attain high levels of skill at it. Probably it just comes easier to women. Technology is not such a big deal; men have no edge. Now I would say watching some girls grow up that their interests are biased in a direction that puts them at a disadvantage but I can not be sure their bias is all that biological in nature, the culture heavily pushes them even today. I'm also seeing how girls learn behaviors from TV and movies; there is no society anymore, just individual consumers and the childhood peers they learn from are also picking up things from pop "culture" which is all distorted or fake. They may feel like they must have a job and take care of kids and cook letting the man do less...as shown on the culture rewrite machine; but they also get some attitude from there as well. Manipulation and defensive tactics are also learned as well. Given how males watch shallow tv shows... its no wonder they turn out as they do. Watch some chick flicks and see how educational it is, that dribble is almost like a dull educational video on social topics - then compare how much info can be passively picked up vs some stupid BOND movie. For the men, gadgets, tech, aggression, and casual sex (or a lot less everything if it is watching sports... well, add hunting-style tactics if watching sports.)

There are serious real gender differences that do not get discussed because of moron sexists like the parent; we have little in the way of answers nor is it likely we will find that many --- unless you start removing the power of environment... then you can do some proper experimentation. Social interaction is a greater factor than MOST people realize. Wisdom of the crowds? that does work, but only proven for simple tests and democracy lovers like to extend that to everything... But even the simple tests FAIL when the crowd is allowed high degrees interaction and disclosure; then even the simple time-proven counting estimate fails - the wisdom of the crowd only works when the crowd does not discuss the decision. There is more... people who can be convinced they did a crime and also confess to impossible acts. Only examples of how little "free will" people have and how much more similar we are to dogs than we would like to believe. So, I'm strongly on the nurture side of the nature vs nurture debate -- the DNA only creates biases which can be undone; just as a brain damaged person can retrain the working parts of their brain (far more extreme than the simple task of overcoming biological biases... well some are just too strong hardwired.... like male sex drive making it difficult to completely overcome.)

Re:Women and computers (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839639)

I'm not sure what's sadder... that utterly pathetic troll attempt, or that it's just possible you might genuinely believe any of what you just said.

1941 (1)

gfody (514448) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838221)

Konrad Zuse designed and built the first mechanical computer [wikipedia.org] in 1941. It's his own design using binary.

wrong (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838261)

not the first mechanical computer by millenia, but rather the first turing-complete programmable automatic mechanical computer. big difference.

Re:wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838317)

not the first mechanical computer by millenia, but rather the first turing-complete programmable automatic mechanical computer. big difference.

Well, mixing them up is understandable. In many languages "computer" is not just a calculating device, there's a different word for that. English is stupid in that regard, that computing is, well, doing calculations. No need to distinctly say that it's a turing complete device - if it isn't it's just a calculator.

Re:wrong (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838887)

there are plenty of "computers' in those other languages that aren't turing complete, either. For example, there are programmable analog computers that can do quite complex tasks......

Re:1941 (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 2 years ago | (#39842931)

The Z3 was an electromechanical computer, i.e. it used relays. This avoided a big problem with mechanical computers: power transfer. The crank on a Babbage computer potentially had to drive all of the components in the mill, which would place high loads on the gears.

Example of perfect being the enemy of good enough (4, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838239)

Charles Babbage is the ultimate example of "The perfect is the enemy of the good." He was so caught up in what he could do better with the Analytical Engine that he did not fill the orders for the Difference Engine. If he had set some people up making Difference Engines rather than spending the money he was given to build a Difference Engine to design the Analytical Engine, he might have been able to get a steady enough flow of money to fund building and designing variations on the Analytical Engine. The question of course is, if he had done that, would he have lived long enough to get any work done on the Analytical Engine at all?

Until the machine is complete, it's a non issue (-1, Troll)

Nyder (754090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838251)

I can make the worlds best fucking computer from lego's.

I can do anything.

At least, I can say I can do anything.

So, until these people actually build the machine, they can fuck off, attention seeking glory hounds.

Re:Until the machine is complete, it's a non issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39839531)

Pot... meet kettle.

I don't see your Lego build of an analytical engine anywhere.

At least these guys are progressing towards a goal... what's your progress so far?

"really did invent" (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838293)

Can you really say someone "invented" something if they never actually managed to build it? I have tremendous respect for the work Babbage and Lovelace did, but honestly, I'm not sure they invented the computer any more than da Vinci invented the airplane.

Re:"really did invent" (4, Insightful)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838595)

Da Vinci's airplanes were built, and they didn't fly. Babbage computers were built, and they worked.

Financial disaster stopped it (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838321)

I am quoting from memory here, from Terence Kealey's two books, out of which "The economic laws of scientific research" is the best.
Charles Babbage talked the British government into investing in the differential machine. He didn't complete it and the money was wasted. A couple of Swedes actually built the machine, but didn't sell many. You see, once you have calculated logarithmic tables and the like once, you can just print more of them.
The positive result was that the government of the UK did not spend a penny on higher education until after the first world war. I write positive, since the empirical evidence shows that since higher civilian education was all private, it was as a consequence the best in the world. Britain was also the richest country in the world, which helped, but for every dollar government spends on higher education, the private sector spends about 1.25 less. This was true then, and according to the OECD (but hidden away in their reports), it is true now.

Darwin was a self-financed hobby researcher. He did not apply for grants, he did not have PhD students and he did not have to follow politically fashionable theories of the day.

All British universities had huge private endowments. Unfortunately, they invested in government bonds and at the end of WWI, these had been reduced to only 25% of their value. The intended students had also been shot to pieces in the trenches. So in 1920, British universities were bankrupt, because of the government, and became state run.

Well there's yer problem. (4, Funny)

caffeinated_bunsen (179721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838383)

John Graham-Cumming is the leading light behind a project...

Leading lights generally work better in front of things. I think your metaphorator might be a bit misaligned...

Yep. Looks like you've got some sinusoidal co-pleneration between the literal input shafts. Gonna have to replace your main spurving bearing, maybe the secondary too. A couple of the marzel vanes on your imagery agitator are looking a pretty worn, might want to get those replaced while you're at it.

Re:Well there's yer problem. (1)

jkflying (2190798) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838965)

It's fine, I'm sure the government will buy it.

Re:Well there's yer problem. (1)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839741)

Your correct.. the metaphor only works if your the leading light behind an FTL test flight..

Re:Well there's yer problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39840877)

John Graham-Cumming is the leading light behind a project...

Leading lights generally work better in front of things. I think your metaphorator might be a bit misaligned.

I don't care what you think you think.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/12/04/24/2031211/quantum-experiment-shows-effect-before-cause

Not surprising it was never built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838421)

From TFA: The project hopes to have a working machine before the 2030s.

If it's going to take them 20 years to build one of these things with today's fabrication technology, how the hell would this have actually been built in the 1800s?

STOP LINKING TO I-PROGRAMMER STORIES (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838481)

Going to the
I-PROGRAMMER
website is always
a complete
fucking hassle.
It rapes my eyes
with its shitty
layout and
dedication of
only about two
inches of screen
real-estate for
actual content.
I wish people
would just
stop fucking
linking to it
and find another
source for
the stories they
want to discuss.

Re:STOP LINKING TO I-PROGRAMMER STORIES (1)

germansausage (682057) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839743)

I mostly don't reply to AC rants, but in this case you are 100% correct. The content on the linked page takes up less than 10% of the width of my screen.

Great idea, probably not happening (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838505)

It's a great project, but I don't think it's really happening. The guy behind it is into PR, not cutting metal. "The project hopes to have a working machine before the 2030s."

There's a simulator for the Analytical Engine. [fourmilab.ch] It runs in a Java applet, and you can write and run programs. It's not that hard to program. The Analytical Engine is comparable to a low-end programmable calculator, without trig functions.

The machine itself isn't that complicated; just big. It's big because Babbage specified 1000 memory locations of 50 decimal digits each. So you need 50,000 memory wheels. That's all for data; programs are on cards. The "mill" part of the machine is roughly the complexity of a good mechanical desk calculator.

That's actually far too much memory for what the thing can do. Nobody seems to know why 50 digits, either. Babbage had figured out shifting, and understood scale factors, so it's not that he wanted to put the decimal point in some fixed place and work in fixed fractional mode.

If the thing were built with 100 memory locations of 10 digits each (a typical configuration for an 1980s programmable calculator), it would be equally capable, and 1/50th the size. That's enough capacity for navigational tables and astronomy. Built with full memory, it would be the size of a locomotive, and most of the memory would be idle. The extra memory wouldn't make it useful for bookkeeping or business; the I/O isn't there for that.

I wrote in and asked how many part numbers (different parts) the machine has, which gives a sense of how much manufacturing effort is required. There probably aren't that many; all 50,000 memory wheels will be identical, and most of the "mill" is repeats of a 1 digit mechanical adder. I didn't get an answer.

Somebody should model the machine in SolidWorks or Autodesk Inventor. (Or upgrade the mechanism support in Minecraft and let that crowd do it.)

Re:Great idea, probably not happening (1)

effigiem (2558315) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838859)

+1 to that.

Re:Great idea, probably not happening (5, Informative)

JohnGrahamCumming (684871) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839421)

You are correct that I care about the PR side of things. I need to because I need to raise a substantial amount of money.

But it's far from all PR. There's now a registered British charity with a board of trustees and the pre-eminent Babbage expert, Doron Swade, who built the Difference Engine No. 2 at the Science Museum is running the technical side of the project.

Study of the digitized plans has been underway since February and some first results will be announced this summer. We actively want to build a 3D working model in a tool like Autodesk.

Re:Great idea, probably not happening (4, Funny)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39842039)

"1000 memory wheels ought to be enough for anyone"

A Turing Machine 100 Years Before Turing (1)

qbitslayer (2567421) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838751)

Yep, the Analytical Engine was a Turing Machine long before Turing showed up. Babbage deserves more credit as the father of computing than Turing does, in my opinion. Just saying.

Re:A Turing Machine 100 Years Before Turing (2)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839157)

The problem is that Babbage didn't actually have any "computing babies" -- his computing genotype died out, and a new computer bloodline evolved years later. Turing was part of that family tree.

Sorry for the mildly mixed metaphor.

This project was discussed before (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838871)

in 2011 [slashdot.org]
and 2010 [slashdot.org]

Re:This project was discussed before (1)

Jetra (2622687) | more than 2 years ago | (#39838977)

I thought that this was talked about before. Thanks!

Non news, known for a long time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39838987)

This is not news in any way. It was known years ago, the attempt to make it started a long time ago as well (not this one, but a shitload of others), and there is nothing of interest here. Olds, not news.

What about Thomas Fowler? He p0rned Babbaged! (5, Interesting)

m1bxd (940711) | more than 2 years ago | (#39839863)

Thomas Fowler actually built a calculation machine in wood, presented to the Royal Society in 1840!!!!

http://www.thomasfowler.org.uk/ [thomasfowler.org.uk]

This only fault was not to have the social background that Babbage had...

I quote from the front page of the site dedicated to him:

Fowler writes to Airy:

        "I had the honor in May 1840 to submit the machine to the inspection of many Learned Men in London among whom were the Marquis of Northampton, Mr Babbage, W F Baily and A de Morgan Esq with many other Noblemen and Gentlemen, Fellows of the Royal Society etc and it would have been a great satisfaction to me if I could have had the advantage of your opinion also. They all spoke favourably of my invention but my greatest wish was to have had a thorough investigation of the whole principle of the machine and its details, as far as I could explain them, in a way very different from a popular exhibition:- this investigation I hope it will still have by some first rate men of science before it is be laid aside or adopted.
        I am fully aware of tendency to overrate one's own inventions and to attach undue importance to subjects that preoccupy the mind but I venture to say and hope to be fully appreciated by a Gentleman of your scientific achievements, that I am often astonished at the beautiful aspect of a calculation entirely mechanical.
        I often reflect that had the Ternary instead of the binary Notation been adopted in the Infancy of Society, machines something like the present would long ere this have been common, as the transition from mental to mechanical calculation would have been so very obvious and simple.
        I am very sorry I cannot furnish you with any drawings of the Machine, but I hope I shall be able to exhibit it before the British Association at Devonport in August next, where I venture to hope and believe I may again be favoured with your invaluable assistance to bring it into notice. I have led a very retired life in this town without the advantages of any hints or assistance from any one and I should be lost amidst the crowd of learned and distinguished persons assembled at the meeting without some kind friend to take me by the hand and protect me."

Charles Babbage, Augustus De Morgan, George Airy and many other leading mathematicians of the day witnessed his machine in operation. These names have become beacons in the history of science yet nowhere will you find reference to Thomas Fowler. Airy asked that he produce plans of his machine but Fowler, recalling his experience with the Thermosiphon, refused to publish his design.

The machine was superior in many respects to Babbage's calculating machine, the Difference Engine, generally regarded as the first digital computer. Fowler's machine anticipated the modern computer in its design by using a ternary calculating method. This is in contrast to Babbage's machine which performed a decimal calculation, an approach which made his machine very complicated. The government of the day became increasingly disillusioned by the money they were having to pour into its development. So much so that the government refused to even look at Fowler's machine. Had Thomas Fowler published his design he would no doubt have won the support of many leading mathematicians of the time. Unfortunately, it took several decades before his approach was re-invented and in the mean time his name had slipped into obscurity.

Re:What about Thomas Fowler? He p0rned Babbaged! (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39840075)

His other fault was to die shortly after building it.

by 2030? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39840077)

Yikes, it should not take that long with today's manufacturing technology.

Why didn't Africans invent computers? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39840311)

Could it possibly have anything to do with their IQ?

No, don't tell me... it's all 'whitey's fault'...

Your country is being taken over by third worlders who can't even program a computer, let alone BUILD one. What future do you think your children have?

Greatest Never built? Hardly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39840861)

Google "Flying Crowbar". THAT'S the greatest machine never built.

Screw ASCII ! (1)

Chetchez (313249) | more than 2 years ago | (#39841505)

Porn on that must have been awesome!

Oh Imperial College!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39842623)

Only Imperial College could have held this kind of event and invite JG Cumming haha.
http://tedximperialcollege.com/
There is this Also Faisal guy as well who is doing neuro-computing. Pretty neat

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Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39842911)

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