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June 27th, 2006
Powerful Cultural Memes Assist the Drive Towards Artificial Intelligence
By Dale Roethlisberger

Charles Babbage (1792-1871) is a good place to start in our quest for the fabled Arti. Babbage was an English astronomy student who embarked on a career as a computer engineer when hardly anyone had even thought of the computer concept and engineer referred to someone who ran a steam locomotive. Between 1827 and 1833, Babbage attempted to build his “Difference Engine” which basically was a rather sophisticated mechanical calculator of around 25,000 parts. The Difference Engine actually worked in a limited way (about 10% of the device was made with 2,000 hand-made brass parts and it could do some calculations). Babbage was a perfectionist though, and this had dire consequences for him. He suffered a nervous breakdown from his obsessions with his work and finances.

After 1833, Charles Babbage started concentrating on his follow-up concept to the Difference Engine. The “Analytical Engine” would be a full-blown programmable machine with memory (the “store”) and a processing unit (the “mill”). The Analytical Engine would use punched cards for storage, input, and output. The technical papers on the Analytical Engine and its potential programmed use read like the manuals of computers from a hundred years later. The biggest problem facing the building and completion of the Analytical Engine was the state of metal parts manufacturing and precision during the mid-1800’s. Of course, obtaining the finances was a major hurdle to overcome as well. But, if Babbage had been able to produce more of his Difference Engine economically and rapidly, then we would have had the computer revolution a hundred years earlier

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