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Myhrvold & Swade Discuss Babbage's Difference Engine

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Uploaded on Jun 10, 2008

[Recorded May 1, 2008]
Charles Babbage (1791-1871), computer pioneer, designed the first automatic computing engines. He invented computers but failed to build them. Babbage's designs for his vast mechanical calculating engines rank as one of the startling achievements of the 19th century and are monumental in logical conception, physical size, and intricacy.

The first complete Babbage Engine was constructed in London in 2002, more than 150 years after it was designed by Babbage in the 1840's. The building of a second copy of Babbage's Difference Engine No.2 was commissioned by Nathan Myhrvold.

Exhibited for the first time in North America at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, this Babbage Difference Engine No. 2 is a stunning display of Victorian mechanics and an arresting spectacle of automatic computing. The Engine consists of 8,000 parts of bronze, cast iron and steel, weighs five tons and measures eleven feet long and seven feet high.

In this lecture and discussion, Nathan Myhrvold and Doron Swade discuss Charles Babbage, his life and times, the importance of his work, and why they are passionate about bringing this startling display of elegant design and inspired engineering to the world. They are joined in the discussion by Len Shustek, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Computer History Museum.

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