Gigaom brings you our unique analysis and commentary on the present and future of AI.
Charles Babbage lived at a time, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when scientific knowledge was coming out of the university and into industry, and there were log books that were used to make computations and the logs in those books had all been calculated by hand. And because of that, they were error-prone and therefore calculations based on them were often error-prone. Babbage made a comment that was prescient and way ahead of its time, he said, “I wish that these calculations could be executed by steam.”
That's really amazing to think about. I mean, captured in it is this notion that mechanical things are more precise and more accurate and more scalable than human things. And he did design a computer that could do calculations, could compute logs that would have been steam-powered. He raised money and tried to build it, but being ahead of his time he also ran out of venture capital before he shipped a product. Now the interesting thing, of course, is that we live in a world surrounded by computers. Nobody knows how many there are and the best guess is that ten percent of every bit of energy consumed on this planet powers a computer. What I find interesting is that our power generation, whether it's from coal or nuclear, the majority of it still comes from steam. So, even today, that comment of Babbage was made nearly 200 years ago, and we're still making our calculations using steam.