Scientists to (eventually) build Babbage's 1837 steampunk computer

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Dec 15, 2012

As we reported last year, programmer and science blogger John Graham-Cumming was trying to raise money to finish the incomplete Analytical Engine, a machine designed by Charles Babbage in 1837 that could have been the world's first programmable computer. Now that project is underway.

Graham-Cumming blogged that Babbage's notes are finally being digitized, thanks to the Science Museum in London. He and Science Museum curator Doron Swade, who reconstructed Babbage's calculator, the Difference Engine 2 in 1991, plus its printer in 2000, will be studying the notes.

Then, in 2012, Graham-Cumming will make Babbage's notes available to the public.

Geeks Are Sexy writes:

The digital files will serve two initial purposes. Firstly they'll allow researchers to examine the variety of plans and sketches that Babbage made so that they can figure out exactly what his "true" design was. Secondly, they'll allow the project to produce a computer simulation of the analytical engine.

After that? If the simulation works, and if Graham-Cumming can raise enough money, he and the Science Museum can build the machine that could have changed the 19th century (and made steampunk a reality).

According to Wikipedia, "[The Analytical Engine] was a general-purpose programmable computer, employing punch cards for input and a steam engine for power, using the positions of gears and shafts to represent numbers."

The programming language was created by mathematician Ada Lovelace. Wikipedia notes that her program would have run correctly, had the Analytical Engine been built.

(via GeeksAreSexy)