Jun 2007

What can the analytical engine do? Ask Charles Babbage..


I recently read the original article of Charles Babbage - which deals with the work he and Lady Ada Augusta Countess of Lovelace did on the Analytical Engine, one of the (mechanical) predecessors of the modern computer - thanks to a blog post from David Dodds. I guess that his position is representative of that one of many people in the xml community - people who, when facing the ontologists/AI/intelligent-agents/SW prophets, always try to keep things down to earth. But anyways. The original passage from the Countess of Lovelace is quite interesting:

The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with. This it is calculated to effect primarily and chiefly of course, through its executive faculties; but it is likely to exert an indirect and reciprocal influence on science itself in another manner. For, in so distributing and combining the truths and the formulæ of analysis, that they may become most easily and rapidly amenable to the mechanical combinations of the engine, the relations and the nature of many subjects in that science are necessarily thrown into new lights, and more profoundly investigated. This is a decidedly indirect, and a somewhat speculative, consequence of such an invention. It is however pretty evident, on general principles, that in devising for mathematical truths a new form in which to record and throw themselves out for actual use, views are likely to be induced, which should again react on the more theoretical phase of the subject. There are in all extensions of human power, or additions to human knowledge, various collateral influences, besides the main and primary object attained.

Cite this blog post:


Michele Pasin. What can the analytical engine do? Ask Charles Babbage... Blog post on www.michelepasin.org. Published on June 25, 2007.

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