Monday, May 26, 2008

the earliest ever "second system"?

From chapter 2 of The Code Book by Simon Singh, section "Mr. Babbage Versus the Vigenère Cipher" (page 64 in my edition):
These mathematical tables were calculated by hand, and the mistakes were simply the result of human error. This caused Babbage to exclaim, "I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam!" This marked the beginning of an extraordinary endeavor to build a machine capable of faultlessly calculating the tables to a high degree of accuracy. In 1823 Babbage designed "Difference Engine No. 1," a magnificent calculator consisting of 25,000 precision parts, to be built with government funding. Although Babbage was a brilliant innovator, he was not a great implementer. After ten years of toil, he abandoned "Difference Engine No. 1," cooked up an entirely new design, and set to work building "Difference Engine No. 2."

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