Analytical Engine

Steampunk Terminology

You all know how I feel about words and language, so it seems only right that I throw a little Steampunk Terminology your way. Today we look to the Analytical Engine.

An analytical engine is the computer of the Steampunk genre.  This device moves purely through mechanical means (steam, levers, etc) and can, in theory do everything that a computer can do using Steampunk tech.  Let’s look at the actual history first.

analytical engineEnglish mathematician, Charles Babbage, first proposed an analytical engine in 1837.  This design that he proposed was the next step after the success of his difference engine – a mechanical calculator.  This design included an arithmetical unit, conditional branching and memory.  These pieces make it the design for the first concept of a computer.  Though Babbage was never able to build this design during his lifetime, the schematics that he left have allowed others to produce them and, here is the best part, they work!

Now, Babbage lived in the Victorian era.  This technology could have thus been available to people of that time.  Therefore, the analytical engine has become part of the lexicon of the Steampunk craze.  Steampunk authors often throw the analytical engine into their stories.  This devices can form huge parts of the plot and some even take a on a life of their own. The analytical engine is woven into the lexicon of the genre and I think it would make a great band name.

“Coming to the stage now: Analytical Engine! With front man Charles Babbage, Steve Jobs on drums, Bill Gates playing lead guitar and playing bass The Woz!

Here is something funny to ponder for a while. In truth, had Babbage gotten the funding and technology together to build his analytical engine, it would have had more computing power then many of the computers built in the 1940s – when computing really took off.  I wonder what our world would look like now. You might be reading this on the Babbage-Pad.  Or have a copy of Babbage 7 on your home computer.