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April 15, 2010

Sterling annotates Babbage, finds reference to computer games

Bruce Sterling, on his blog, Beyond the Beyond, (re)read some of the papers of Charles Babbage and found a reference to a programmed game of "tit tat too" (tic tac toe?). Sterling's annotations are within triple parentheses. This shows that computer games were present at the birth of mechanical computation, and presages their existence during the current age of digital electronic computation.

Now it may happen in addition that two or more numbers being added together, there may not be room at the top of the column for the left hand figure of the result. This would usually happen from an oversight in preparing or arranging the cards when space should be left; but it might so happen that the calculation led, as mathematical problems sometimes do, through infinity. In either case a bell would be rung and the engine stopped (((bug)))

This principle of “Chain” is used also to govern the engine in those cases where the mathematician himself is not able to say beforehand what may happen, and what course is to be pursued, but has to let it depend on the intermediate result of the calculation arrived at. (((generative art))) He may wish to shape it in different ways according as one or several events may occur, and “Chain” gives him the power to do it mechanically. By this contrivance machines to play simple games of skill such as “tit tat too” have been designed. (((computer games)))

It could follow the processes of the mathematician be they tentative or direct, wherever he could show the way to any number of numerical results. It is only a question of cards and time. Fabrics have been woven requiring several thousand cards. I possess one made by the aid of over twenty thousand cards, and there is no reason why an equal number of cards should not be used if necessary, in an Analytical Engine for the purposes of the mathematician. (((software libraries)))

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at April 15, 2010 12:00 PM