Building the Analytical Engine

April 30, 2012

I’ve written here before about the project, launched by John Graham-Cumming, a British writer and programmer, to build a working model of the Analytical Engine, designed in the 19th century by the British mathematician, Charles Babbage.  The Engine, which has a fair claim to being the world’s first design for a stored-program computer, was never built, owing to its size (about the same as a steam locomotive) and complexity.  Lord Byron’s daughter Ada, Lady Lovelace, for whom the Ada programming language is named, wrote a program for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers, and was possibly the world’s first programmer.

Last fall, the Science Museum in London undertook the digitization of Babbage’s various designs for the Engine (he was an inveterate tinkerer), with the aim of coming to a final design for the proposed replica.

There is now a video available of a TED talk that Mr. Graham-Cumming gave at Imperial College, London, on the Analytical Engine project, in which he discusses the design of the Engine and how the project is proceeding.  Although it’s not a comprehensive description, it’s an entertaining overview of the problem.

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