Leading article: Start the engine

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The Independent Online

John Graham-Cumming led the successful campaign last year to secure a pardon for Alan Turing. Now the science blogger intends to deliver a posthumous honour for another of the fathers of computing: Charles Babbage. Mr Graham-Cumming's latest project is to build Babbage's "Analytical Engine" – essentially a great steam-powered computer – based on the 19th-century inventor's designs held by the Science Museum.

Babbage saw none of his inventions constructed in his lifetime. And the short-sightedness of many of his contemporaries left him baffled. He once remarked: "On two occasions I have been asked, 'Pray, Mr Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' In one case a member of the upper, and in the other a member of the lower House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

But those befuddled Parliamentarians were ahead of their time. For them a mechanical "computer" was a form of magic that somehow gave you what you wanted. And so do many of us today look upon our iPods, iPads and PCs. All the more reason, then, to build Babbage's Analytical Engine and to reveal to the public a little of what takes place in those tiny silicon chips.