Economist of Science Babbage Invented a Computer


“Modern construction, Difference Engine No. 2, 2005”   Source of caption and photo:

Charles Babbage is best known as the inventor of an early computer, but he also made some early, stimulating contributions to the economics of science.

(p. C6) The oldest computer has landed in Silicon Valley, where they design the newest computers.
The Science Museum in London has built two replicas from Charles Babbage’s original design for the Difference Engine No. 2. Planned from 1847 to 1849, the five-ton, 8,000-part system for calculating the mathematical expressions known as polynomials was finally built in 2002 by a team of engineers that took 17 years to complete the entire project. The machine includes a remarkable printing component that almost certainly would have been the world’s first automated typesetter had Babbage built one from his original design during his lifetime.
The all-mechanical Difference Engine can handle numbers to 31 digits of accuracy. The printer produces an ink printout but also has the capability of making a mold for a printing plate. It automatically typesets results in columns and employs two separate font sizes.

For the full story, see:
JOHN MARKOFF. “BITS; 1800s-Style Computer Comes to U.S.” The New York Times (Mon., May 5, 2008): C6.

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