Paper Pills – An Exploration of the Analytical Engine

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Here's a very interesting What If? that explores the possibilities of the Analytical Engine, had it been built.

Now, I understand that a lot of the ideas that Babbage mentions are marketing materials. He was, after all, trying to generate money to build the thing. Still, taking a bit of a plunge down the rabbit hole, this article has some thoughtful turns and twists that would have made our world a very different place. I particularly like the ideas of British banks using them and the telegraph connected machines talking to each other.

So let's take a look at the alternate early 20th century:

  • Arcades with Analytical Checkers, Chess, Tic-Tac-Toe and possibly Hearts.
  • Speaking of arcades, what kind of games would fans of Jules Verne have made?
  • Speaking of Jules Verne, the analytical engine could have generated the tables needed for launching objects into orbit and much more.
  • Banks with computers to calculate investments, interest, etc. With the telegraph communication modem, we have automated trades in the commodities markets.
  • The 1901 World's Fair is Glasgow may have featured a music composing machine.
  • The Wright Brothers would not have spent years re-calculating Lilienthal's faulty data. Babbage himself would have already recalculated tables that used the Smeaton Coefficient. The wind tunnel may have come much earlier. Heck, maybe Lilienthal would have been successful with his gliders.
  • Speaking of the Wright Brothers, materials engineering would have progressed a bit by the time they were designing the engine for the flying machine. General Motors or other engine manufacturers of the time would have been able to build it instead of the brothers designing one with Charlie Taylor.
  • Wireless computing would involve radio frequencies. That gives new meaning to hacking. It would be done with a shortwave radio and an antenna interface to an analytical engine.

There are more possibilities than that, of course. The article in the link refers to just a few. Going into the far future, the plaster that allowed for "print on demand" could be modified to print objects instead of words. Just a thought.

This kind of what if in RPGs is nothing new at all. There is Space 1889 and a host of other so-called steampunk that build on it. Somehow, though, this article struck a chord of interest. One reason is that the progress of the analytical machine would have spurred the fabrication of new materials. Another is that it would be likely that the integrated circuit would not have been developed. At the end of the article, the author mentions the lack of a telephone and based on the idea of analytical engine connected by telegraph, that makes sense. I'm also intrigued by the potential lack of a keyboard.

What say you? Good article? Old news?