Re: History of the IT industry

Subject: Re: History of the IT industry
From: Geoff Lane <geoff -at- gjctech -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2008 10:12:58 +0100

On Sunday, June 1, 2008, Lin Sims wrote;

> On Sat, May 31, 2008 at 3:34 AM, Geoff Lane <geoff -at- gjctech -dot- co -dot- uk> wrote:

>> I'm not sure about networks being necessary for IT (unless you include
>> sneaker-net and snail-mail). However, the technology is 19th Century
>> with Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine and Ada Lovelace's creation
>> of what many consider the first computer program. Returning to Webster
>> for a definition of technology: "a manner of accomplishing a task
>> especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge". Although
>> the Analytical Engine was never built, the concept and hence "IT" was
>> born at or before that time.

> It wasn't built during his lifetime, true. But it has been built:


> Pretty cool looking, isn't it?

No it hasn't. The Analytical Engine has never been built!

However, Babbage's son did build Difference Engine No 1 in 1832. That
was enough for the British Government to sponsor Babbage to build
Difference Engine No 2. This was more complex than its predecessor,
and in Babbage's time the multitude of complex parts couldn't be made
with the required consistency - the technology to do so was missing.
Allegedly, the problems with getting parts made at different locations
to work together was the biggest obstacle to Babbage realising his

However, some good came out of that because Joseph Whitworth was one
of Babbages employee's engaged on building Difference Engine No 2.
That failure of that project is alleged to be the inspiration for
Whitworth to create the first standard series of machine threads,
which was a massive step towards the establishment of standardisation
and adoption of engineering standards.

In 1985, the Science Museum in London commissioned a project to build
a working example of Difference Engine No 2. The calculating section
of this was finished and working a month before what would have been
Babbage's 200th birthday in 1991. I understand that some Americans
built another example some time after<g>

The difference engines were just complex mechanical calculators
capable of solving equations (like those describing ballistic
trajectories). They were not computers capable of programmed logic.
OTOH, the Analytical Engine was.

It's a shame that Babbage fell out of favour and was derided for his
failure to produce Difference Engine No 2, which ultimately absorbed
huge amounts of Government Sponsorship. Only three people attended his
funeral and he died in relative obscurity. Hardly a fitting end for
one who's work would later revolutionise the World.



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