In our eighth week of class, we discussed the early history of computers and the overlooked roles of women in the historiography of these machines. There were many fascinating topics explored within these subjects but what really stood out to me this week was the overall theme of foresight and creativity leading to invention.
Starting with the video of Charles Babbage’s machine, and the brief history we receive regarding his prototype, we begin to see the advanced thinking and creativity of those who imagine technology beyond their current time and capacity. Babbage’s ideas were so advanced that the machine itself, the Difference Engine, could not be built in his lifetime. We see the same forward thinking with his comrade and fellow mathematician Ada Lovelace. She, too, had the ability to see the possibilities that lay within the Difference Engine and her ingenuity and aptitude led her to create the first computer program, which is exceptional fascinating because there was no such thing as a computer. She also predicted the content of what could be expressed digitally and stressed the importance of the programmers of the future. In the New York Times Overlooked Obituary of Ada Lovelace it is said that “this insight [of Lovelace] would become the core concept of the digital age.”
Continuing our readings for this week, we evaluated an article written in 1945 by Vannevar Bush in which he prophesizes the future of computers and other technologies of his time. Bush begins his article by stating “instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages.” This statement alone gives insight to what could possibly become the internet. He goes on to discuss the future of photography, coming shockingly close to what will actually happen. Bush also seems to describe what we will call the personal computer. He calls it a “Memex”, and it is basically the first description of an operating system that can hold our own personal libraries for us to call upon whenever we need. Like Lovelace, he is describing the uses for specific technologies that do not exist in his time. To me this is absolutely fascinating.
The extraordinary foresight, comprehension, and overall intelligence that these three figures contained is almost unbelievable. It makes me wonder what future technology will have in store and who among us will have the ability to predict its invention.
Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic. July 1945. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/.
Infinite Retina. “A Demo of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.” YouTube video, 24:09. Posted June 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlbQsKpq3Ak&feature=youtu.be.
Miller, Claire Cain. “Ada Lovelace.” The New York Times. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/obituaries/overlooked-ada-lovelace.html.