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Babbage video

Here’s a slick video of the new, second Difference Engine, built according to Charles Babbage’s 19481848 plans. The narrative is over-heated, but the visuals are nice.

I’ve been continuing to read about Babbage because I think he provides an interesting way to argue that information didn’t exist before the middle of the 20th century. It’s a mistake to view even Babbage’s more advanced machine (the Analytic Engine) as dealing with information, much less as a computer. But I’m not ready to make that argument yet. I’m having a lot of fun researching it, though.

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9 Responses to “Babbage video”

  1. I’m guessing you meant 1848, not 1948 (which would put Babbage after Turing when it came to computers).

  2. “I think he provides an interesting way to argue that information didn’t exist before the middle of the 20th century. It’s a mistake to view even Babbage’s more advanced machine (the Analytic Engine) as dealing with information, much less as a computer. But I’m not ready to make that argument yet.”

    Dave,

    The position you are considering advancing goes against an orthodoxy that extends pretty far back in history of technology from what I’ve read over the years. I’d be very interested in the insights you think will support it.

    Larry

  3. 1848??? That explains why people made such a fuss!!!

    :)

    I’ve corrected the typo. Thanks, Richard.

  4. Larry, yes, I know it goes against the orthodoxy. That’s why I’m enjoying the research :)

    What I actually want to do (I think) is write a piece that looks at the history of the punch card, from the Jacquard loom to the mainframe, with a major focus on Babbage. The question would be: At what point does the punch card become information? I think (not sure) that it starts to become information only with Hollerith. But, then, that all depends on what we mean by “info,” which is a really tough topic all in itself.

  5. David,

    The area is one that, in the early 1980s, I considered as a dissertation topic, though not your specific question. I would certainly recommend, among other sources, Chapter 8, “Babbage and his computers,” of J.M. Dubbey’s The Mathematical Work of Charles Babbage. Cambridge. 1978.

    Larry

  6. Re information as a modern concept, what about the census? The Domesday Book recorded demographic details, and classified assets at least by categories and location, the Inca updated theirs more frequently than we in the US do ours (and I’ll skirt the whole topic of the quipu), the Ottomans recorded all sorts of ethnic, religious and economic information that they used in a way any modern bureaucrat would recognize, and so on.

  7. Johne,

    I take it then that in your thinking bureaucracy is an information technology. It categorizes and collects data to inform, or in many cases to justify, decisions.

    Larry

  8. Larry,
    Though we usually think of technology in connection with science and engineering, bureaucracy definitely qualifies as well. But I’m not sure that David is dealing only with information technology.
    David?

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