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April 30, 2023 5 mins

The first machine for computation was designed in the 1800s! Learn how its creators, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, set about inventing it in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/inventions/who-invented-the-computer.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey brain Stuff.
I'm Lauren Vogelbaum, and this is another classic brain Stuff episode.
In this one, we dig into the history of computers.
Although the first one was designed in the eighteen hundreds,
it wouldn't be built for another one hundred and fifty years.

(00:24):
Hey brain Stuff, Lauren Vogelbaum here, who invented the first computer?
One could argue that the abacus was the first computer,
or its descendant, the slide rule, invented by William Ottred
in sixteen twenty two, but the first computer resembling today's
modern machines was the Analytical Engine, a device conceived and
designed by British mathematician Charles Babbage between eighteen thirty three

(00:46):
and eighteen seventy one. Before Babbage came along, our computers
were people who sat around all day adding and subtracting
numbers and entering the results into tables. The tables then
appeared in books so that other people could use them
to complete tasks such as launching artillery shells accurately or
calculating taxes. It was, in fact, a mammoth number crunching

(01:06):
project that inspired Babbage in the first place. Napoleon Bonaparte
initiated the project in seventeen ninety when he ordered a
switch from the old imperial system of measurements to the
new metric system. For ten years, scores of human computers
made the necessary conversions and completed the tables. Bonaparte was
never able to publish the tables, however, and they sat

(01:26):
collecting dust in the Academy the Sciences in Paris. In
eighteen nineteen, Babbage visited Paris and viewed the unpublished manuscript
with page after page of tables. If only, he wondered,
there was a way to produce such tables faster, with
less manpower and fewer mistakes. He thought of the many
marvels generated by the Industrial Revolution. If creative and hard

(01:46):
working inventors could develop the cotton gin and the steam locomotive,
then why not a machine to make calculations. Babbage returned
to England and decided to build just such a machine.
His first vision was something he dubbed the different Engine,
which worked on the principle of finite differences, or making
complex mathematical calculations by repeated edition without using multiplication or division.

(02:09):
He secured government funding in eighteen twenty four and spent
eight years perfecting his idea. In eighteen thirty two, he
produced a functioning prototype of his tablemaking machine, only to
find his funding had run out. Some people might have
been discouraged, but not Babbage. Instead of simplifying his design
to make the difference engine easier to build, he turned
his attention to an even grander idea, the analytical Engine,

(02:32):
a new kind of mechanical computer that could make even
more complex calculations, including multiplication and division. The basic parts
of the analytical Engine resemble the components of any computer
sold on the market today. It featured two hallmarks of
any modern machine, a central processing unit or CPU, and
memory a Babbage, of course, didn't use those terms. He

(02:54):
called the CPU the mill, and the memory the store.
He also had a device, the reader, to input instructions,
as well as a way to record on paper results
generated by the machine. Babbage called this output device a printer,
which makes perfect sense to me. Babbage's new invention existed
almost entirely on paper. He kept voluminous notes and sketches

(03:15):
about his computers, nearly five thousand pages worth, and although
he never built a single production model of the Analytical Engine.
He had a clear vision about how the machine would
look and work, borrowing the same technology used by the
Jakard Loom, which was a weaving machine developed in eighteen
oh four that made it possible to create a variety
of cloth patterns automatically. Babbage's data would be entered on

(03:36):
punched cards. Up to one thousand, fifty digit numbers could
be held in the computer's store. Punched cards would also
carry the instructions which the machine could execute out of
sequential order. A single attendant would oversee the whole operation,
but steam would power it, turning cranks, moving cams and rods,
and spinning gear wheels. But if Babbage was the genius

(03:58):
behind the Analytical Engine, then A. Gusta Ada Byron or
Ada Lovelace was its publicist and arguably the very first
computer programmer. She met Babbage at a party when she
was seventeen and became fascinated by the idea of the
analytical Engine. From that chance meeting grew a strong dynamic relationship.
Lovelace was gifted in mathematics and offered Babbage numerous insights.

(04:19):
In eighteen forty three, she published an influential set of
notes describing the analytical engine. She also added in some
sage predictions, calculating that Babbage's mechanical computers might one day
act upon other things besides numbers, and even compose elaborate
and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity. Unfortunately,
the technology of the day could not deliver on their

(04:40):
ambitious designs. It wasn't until nineteen ninety one that their
particular ideas were finally translated into a functioning computer. That's
when the Science Museum in London built two Babbage's exact specifications,
a difference Engine. It stands eleven feet long and seven
feet tall that's about three meters long and two meters tall,
contains eight thousand moving hearts and weighs fifteen tons or

(05:02):
just over thirteen and a half metric tons. A copy
of the machine was built and shipped to the Computer
History Museum in Mountain View, California, where it remained on
display until December of twenty ten. Neither device would function
on a desktop, but they are no doubt the first
computers and precursors to the modern PC. Today's episode is

(05:25):
based on the article who Invented the First Computer? On HowStuffWorks?
Dot com written by William Harris and Chris Palette. Brainstep
is production of iHeartRadio in partnership with how stuffworks dot Com.
It is produced by Tyler Klain. Four more podcasts from
my heart Radio visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or
wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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