The earliest mechanical computer

As I prepare to submit a proposal for a conference, I took to TED.com (not to procrastinate) to see if I could find some inspiring talks on a variety of topics (the nature of storytelling, leadership, and more). Interestingly, I ran across a video that talked about Charles Babbage’s steam-powered analytical engine (the first one). You can watch the talk here:

It especially caught my eye because I posted a quote by Charles Babbage a few days ago. I had been reading up on Charles Babbage and his eccentric genuis in The Code Book, by Simon Singh, (which I strongly recommend everyone read, because it is riveting). Babbage designed the engine (which is the blueprint for the first mechanical computer – remember, humans who computed were called “computers” originally) because he was very interested in mathmatical tables – such as the ones used in navigation calculations – and it drove him bats when they were filled with errors, which was typical, because they were man-made, and therefore prone to error. According to the book, Babbage decries human error and wishes to high heaven that the calculations could be done by steam.

What’s especially lovely about the video, is it moves from Babbage on to Ada Lovelace, who moved the idea of computer yet another (big) step forward, which opened the laneway for Turing down the line.

None of this helped me with my own proposal, but I found it very interesting.

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