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Building the ancient

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Date: Oct 05, 2010 - 02:52 PM
O'Reilly Radar covers a project to actually build a complete version of Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, a "physical computer" the cranky genius had designed to try to replace plots and graphs generated by error-prone humans.

Babbage came up with the idea of the Analytical Engine while working on a machine to automatically produce mathematical tables (such as tables of logarithms). Mathematical tables were extensively used at the time -- and well into the 20th century -- and they were calculated by hand by people referred to as "computers." Babbage hoped to eliminate errors made by these computers by replacing them with a machine capable of performing the relevant calculations automatically.

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Simulating the machine using 3D modeling software and a physics engine would enable us to bring the machine to life without making any metal parts. Given the size and complexity of the machine, this step is vital. And since the final machine would wear out if constantly used, it would provide a way of demonstrating the Engine.

It might seem a folly to want to build a gigantic, relatively puny computer at great expense 170 years after its invention. But the message of a completed Analytical Engine is very clear: it's possible to be 100 years ahead of your own time...
It's an intriguing idea. I'd be interested in seeing the completed project one day.



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