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Babbage's Expectations for his Engines

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129674D
Original Publication Date: 1991-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 7 page(s) / 93K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

MAURICE V. WILKES: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Babbage's expectations for his Difference Engine were those of a young enthusiast. Although he failed to complete his version of the engine, an independent implementation of his ideas was carried through by Georg and Edvard Scheutz Two Scheutz engines were built and put to work, one at the Registrar-General's Office in London and one at the Dudley Observatory in Albany, M Y. They performed as intended, but failed to revolutionize the making of mathematical tables as Babbage had hoped they would.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1991 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Babbage's Expectations for his Engines

MAURICE V. WILKES

(Image Omitted: Author's Address: Oliveta Research Ltd., 24a Trumpington Sacet, Cambridge, CB2 IQA, ENGLAND)

Babbage's expectations for his Difference Engine were those of a young enthusiast. Although he failed to complete his version of the engine, an independent implementation of his ideas was carried through by Georg and Edvard Scheutz Two Scheutz engines were built and put to work, one at the Registrar-General's Office in London and one at the Dudley Observatory in Albany, M
Y. They performed as intended, but failed to revolutionize the making of mathematical tables as Babbage had hoped they would.

When Babbage was 45 years old, he wrote, but did not publish, a description of the Analytical Engine. Here he showed vision verging on genius. His judgment on the design and utility of the Analytical Engine was a sound as his judgment on matters concerned with the Difference Engine was weak. Studies by A. G. Bromley, based on an examination of his notebooks, have brought out his remarkable achievements at what we would now call the microprogram level and also the insights that eluded him at the user level. His failure to publish may have been because he never arrived at what he regarded as a satisfactory system for programming at the user level.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing - hardware, people. General Terms: Algorithms, Design, Economics, Experimentation, Performance, Reliability.

Additional Keywords and Phrases: Difference Engine, Analytical Engine, L. J. Comrie, BA Tables Committee.

In Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864) Babbage records that one day, while still a student, he was sitting in pensive mood in the rooms of the Analytical Society with a book of logarithm tables open before him. Another member entering asked him what he was dreaming about. He replied "I am thinking that all these tables might be calculated by machinery." What exactly did he mean by this?

Those who have seen Babbage described as the Father of the Computer, but otherwise know nothing of his work, will see no problem; clearly, a computer can be used to compute mathematical tables. However, the claim for Babbage to be Father of the Computer derives from his work on the Analytical Engine. The anecdote belongs to a period long before he had thought of the Analytical Engine and was only just beginning to develop his ideas for the earlier machine that he called the Difference Engine.

The Difference Engine would generate polynomials by the method of differences. This has application to mathematical tables since, across a certain number of entries, a table, such as the table of logarithms that Babbage had open in front of him, can be represented by a polynomial. This remains...