\\"C\\" vrs ADA (really Babbage) 
Author Message
 \\"C\\" vrs ADA (really Babbage)

My original statement:

> ...  The construction of the Analytical
> Engine was never completed.  It was too ambitious for the machining
> capabilities of the time.

was simplistic.  As Henry has pointed out, a second factor contributing
to the project not being completed was Babbage's constant redesigns.
(Sound familiar?)  Presumably, if the machining had gone easier (and
faster) the redesigns wouldn't have been a problem.  Perhaps fewer
redesigns would have allowed the completion of the project, but in fact
a much later redesign was responsible for the actual completion of the
analytical engine, although not by Babbage.

During World War II, Conrad Zuse, a young German, read Babbage's design
for the Analytical Engine and redesigned it for binary arithmetic (the
original had used decimal).  He was then able to construct the machine
using a mechano set (a toy construction set) in his parent's living
room.  This was, arguably, the first digital computer ever constructed;
although the Mark I, and other computers in England and America were
built before Zuse's feat became known.

Henry mentions that:

> The Analytical Engine's real problem was that it was not really fast
> enough to justify its high cost, especially in view of the limited demand
> for computing at the time.

Babbage was caught in a trap that we know too well: trying to make the
first cut at a hard problem be efficient enough to justify the project.
If he had only required the first implementation to be a prototype, he
might have finished it, learning a lot in the process and having a real
working model to demonstrate the concept.  He would have been in a better
position to request funding for implementing a faster, more advanced design.
Prototyping an initial design and then reimplementing with a better design
often takes less time than producing a perfect first implementation.

Although Babbage greatly inspired later workers, his own story is sad,
since he never achieved what he really wanted.  His relationship with
Ada is also sad, because of her early death from consumption.  There
is much we don't know about them, and I'm sure that the biographers
I've read have altered the facts to make a better story; however, I find
their story to be both instructive and inspiring.

J. Greg Davidson                          Virtual Infinity Systems
+1 (619) 452-8059        6231 Branting St; San Diego, CA 92122 USA

Sun, 17 Jan 1993 15:36:00 GMT  
 [ 1 post ] 

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