The Computer's Grandmother (Part 2)

The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform... But it is likely to exert an indirect and reciprocal influence on science itself.

 

Abacuses and other ingenious mathematical instruments appear in the ancient history of all civilizations for a long time have allowed the automatic or semiautomatic execution of the single arithmetic operations.
The nineteen-year-old Blaise Pascal, 200 years before Babbage, had built a mechanic calculator which did sums and subtractions and, thirty years later, Gottfried von Leibniz, had realized a gear wheel machine which calculated also the multiplication, the division and the square root. But in Turin, for the first time, they talked about the program, the main concept of computer science and information technology: that is the description of the sequence of the instructions, with possible gaps and digressions, which must be directly accomplished without man's intervention between one operation and the next and must be considered as the starting point as the numerical records.

The description of the project was entrusted, in Babbage’s invention, to the punch card, derived from the cardboard which Jacquard had introduced in the structure some years before, to memorize the illustration to be duplicated.

The punch card will desappear in 1975, killed by floppy disks.

Babbage had never found the time to explain his invention in a scientific article. So Plana started doing it, but after a while noticed the difficulty and the complexity of the work and gave up. Plana received the title of Baron and was a baron in an academic sense too, authoritative and a bit despotic. Therefore he gave the work of describing the mathematic machine to his young and brilliant collaborator, Luigi Federico Menabrea who wrote an excellent explanatory note of Babbage’s machine. The article was presented in 1842 at the Bibliotèque Universelle de Genève and has conceptual and historical relevance because he can be considered the first scientific work in the sector of informatic and technology.

A few months later Menabrea's article was translated in English and commented by the mathematician Ada di Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, who was enthusiast about mathematics and had always been interested in Babbage's work.

Ada also thought that the programmability of Babbage's calculator could be used as a guide for the weaving loom; for this reason today she's considered to be the first programmer of history and the first one to use informatic as a way for automation .

Ada is also famous for her Lovelace's Regime a note in which she affirms that a machine can only do what we ordered it to do.

"The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform... But it is likely to exert an indirect and reciprocal influence on science itself. "

Babbage never realized one of his machines. His last model of mathematical machine should be as big as a football field and activated by an enormous steam engine. The first minister Benjamin Disraeli refused the loan, saying that the only concrete application of this machine appeared to him as an evaluation of the money already spent for the Babbage' searches.

Disraeli was right. Babbage understood that a programmable calculator must have thousand of elementary pieces, but the toothed, engine  even if it was very little, it would have had an unacceptable cost. The most refined mechanical technology wasn't appropriate to Babbage's ideas. We need to wait a century and the advent of a new technology, the microelectronic, to translate this brilliant ideas into reality.

 

Edit by Aralla, Calvo, Crosetto, Pucci
Liceo Gioberti (Torino) 
​Progetto di Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro anno 2016-2017