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Campaign to build Babbage’s computer gathers steam

by Sarah Griffiths on 18 October 2010, 12:24

Tags: General Business

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Babbage behemoth battle

A campaign to raise money to build mathematician Charles Babbage's steam-powered Analytical Machine, is on its way.

Babbage first cooked up the idea of his super-sized prototype computer back in 1837, but the steam-powered monster has never been seen its entirety.

The campaign, which so far has secured 1,600 pledge donations but hopes to gather funds from over 50,000 supporters to kick-start the project seeks to make Babbage's idea a reality...albeit a little late, the BBC reported.

John Graham-Cumming, author of the Geek Atlas who is behind the campaign, told the BBC: "It's an inspirational piece of equipment. A hundred years ago, before computers were available, [Babbage] had envisaged this machine. What you realise when you read Babbage's papers is that this was the first real computer. It had expandable memory, a CPU, microcode, a printer, a plotter and was programmable with punch cards."

Computer historian Dr Doron Swade reportedly believes building the machine could answer big historical questions.

"Could there have been an information age in Victorian times? That is a very interesting question," he reportedly said.

While other mechanical monsters designed earlier on than Babbage's Analytical Engine can claim to have influenced the boffins behind modern day computers, his creation is widely held to be the first reprogrammable multi-purpose computer and evolved from his Difference Engine, another number crunching behemoth. Babbage planned his machine to be built from Victorian favourites brass and iron.

Swade has spent almost 2 decades building a replica Difference Machine, but described it as a ‘calculator' rather than a computer.  He also pointed out that it was ‘dinky' compared to Babbage's plans for its successor as Babbage's designed for the Analytical Engine show it to be ‘bigger than a steam locomotive'.