Definition

Analytical Engine

Part of the Computing fundamentals glossary:

The Analytical Engine was, or would have been, the world's first general-purpose computer. Designed in the 1830s by the English mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage , the Analytical Engine introduced a number of computing concepts still in use today. Features included a store and mill, analogous to today's memory and processor . Input and output was provided using punched cards, based on the invention by Jacquard in the early 1800s.

Babbage began his work on the Analytical Engine in 1834. He envisaged the computer to be constructed with brass fittings and powered by steam. It was never built, since the government of the day was unwilling to fund its construction, having already sunk 17,000 English pounds into Babbage's fruitless project to build an earlier invention, the Difference Engine .

Babbage was assisted in his endeavors by Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace (and daughter of the poet Byron) who is regarded as the world's first computer programmer for her work with Babbage. She developed a punched card program to calculate the Bernoulli numbers.

While Babbage's earlier Difference Engine was finally constructed in 1991, his Analytical Engine remains unrealized. As the originator of several important concepts in computing, however, Babbage's place in history is secure.

This was last updated in June 2010
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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