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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
Difference Engine
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computer, history Charles Babbage's design for the first
automatic mechanical calculator. The Difference Engine was a
special purpose device intended for the production of
mathematical tables. Babbage started work on the Difference
Engine in 1823 with funding from the British Government. Only
one-seventh of the complete engine, about 2000 parts, was
built in 1832 by Babbage's engineer, Joseph Clement. This was
demonstrated successfully by Babbage and still works
perfectly. The engine was never completed and most of the
12,000 parts manufactured were later melted for scrap.
It was left to Georg and Edvard Schuetz to construct the first
working devices to the same design which were successful in
limited applications. The Difference Engine No. 2 was finally
completed in 1991 at the Science Museum, London, UK and is on
display there.
The engine used gears to compute cumulative sums in a series
of registers: r[i] := r[i] + r[i+1]. However, the addition
had the side effect of zeroing r[i+1]. Babbage overcame
this by simultaneously copying r[i+1] to a temporary register
during the addition and then copying it back to r[i+1] at the
end of each cycle (each turn of a handle).