Researchers to Build Computer Designed in 1830s

The world shall at last know if the Babbage Analytical Engine would have worked
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 8, 2011 12:30 PM CST
Researchers to Build Computer Designed in 1830s
A replica of Charles Babbage's "Difference Engine No. 2, a far simpler calculation machine, is seen at the Science Museum in London. It was built in 1991.   (Wikimedia/geni)

Quick when was the first programmable computer designed? If you said the early 19th century … well, you probably looked at the headline. But you might be right, and researchers in Britain are currently planning to test that theory. They’re about to spend 10 years and millions of dollars trying to build the Babbage Analytical Machine, a massive punch card computer dreamed up by eccentric mathematician Charles Babbage in the 1830s, the New York Times reports.

Babbage never built the analytical machine, and experts have spent years arguing about whether it would have worked. Complicating matters: Babbage was constantly tinkering with his design, so there’s no single blueprint to follow. So a variety of plans will be posted online next year, with the public invited to sort through them and suggest which parts should be incorporated. Researchers will then build a computer model of the room-sized machine and—hopefully—construct it at the Science Museum in London. Click for more on an earlier Babbage reclamation project. (More Charles Babbage stories.)

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