21A.350 / SP.484J / STS.086
The Anthropology of Computing
Fall 2004 MIT
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION AND CALCULATING ENGINES: ANALYTICS OF
CAPTIAL AND GENDER DIFFERENCE IN THE WORK OF CHARLES BABBAGE
AND ADA LOVELACE
Lecture 3. September 27
CHARLES BABBAGE
You’ve read some biographical material about Babbage in the Schaffer article. Let me
add a few things. And locate his work with respect to issues we talked about last
time.
Babbage was a mathematician who first rose to notoriety when he wrote a paper for
the Royal Astronomical Society, in London in 1822, arguing that it might be possible
to mechanize the calculation of astronomical mathematical tables.
Note the cosmos,
the ordered universe, again!
The machine was touted as a device that might
mechanize intellectual labor, and he appealed to the British government to fund it.
Babbage’s writing was wide ranging; he published on mathematics, machinofacture,
economics, and later in his life, theology.
He called this machine the Difference Engine. And you read his account of this
never
built
device in the excerpts. How did you understand this Engine to work?
“based on the mathematical principle that the successive differences of
values of polynomials were ultimately constants, so tables of these
values could be computed by addition and subtraction of
predetermined constants” (Schaffer 1994: p. 206).
Difference Engine could only do one task, since, in present terms, there was
no
; you’d have to build new machine for each
problem.
This was the problem that stalled Pascal in selling his accounting machine
(which could only add and subtract, only using French currency divisions).
In other words, the logic was built into the structure of the machine.
This brings up history parallel to that of calculating machines – and that is
history of AUTOMATA, machines that mimicked the behavior of people,
animals, in which the logic of operation is inseparable from the machine itself.
Babbage was a big fan of these devices (p. 16).
Some of devices invited philosophers to speculate that humans were
automata.
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View Full DocumentLa Mettrie wrote
Man, A Machine
: humans were machines, mind and body
both. He argued against Descartes that humans were a compound of the
material and immaterial [read selections — including abt gender]
Automata; we can revisit some of this history when we get to cybernetics and
Artificial Life.
Back to the problems with Difference Engine — the
overlap/identification/confounding of a particular logic system with its material
instantiation, was a problem the Analytical Engine was meant to solve; this was to
be a general computing device.
How was this to work?
It would have a “store” and a “mill.” (p. 55) (what we think of today as memory and
CPU: and, indeed, even in his sketch for a difference engine, Babbage wrote “The
mechanical means I employed to make these carriages [the carrying of numbers in
calculation] bears some slight analogy to the operation of the faculty of memory” (p.
48).)
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 Fall '06
 UteMetaBauer
 Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, Babbage

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