Plan 28 is now accepting donations to build a computer

Monday, 29 October, 2012

An extraordinary 10-year project named Plan 28 to build the world’s first “computer” is now accepting donations via the JustGiving crowdfunding site. It will cost £250,000 to build the steam-powered Analytical Engine designed by Charles Babbage in the mid-19th century. The project, by the way, takes its name from “Plan 28” after the most comprehensive of the 100 blueprints for the “computer” drawn up by Babbage.

Because there was no demand for Babbage’s machine, the world had to wait for ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) to do the business, as it were. That was in 1946. The mainframe monster begat slightly smaller offspring, among them the UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer), which was used in processing the US census of 1950 and then went on to confound the pollsters by predicting that Dwight Eisenhower (Republican) would trounce Adlai Stevenson (Democrat) in the 1952 presidential election. Sixty years later, Mitt Romney stands ready to repeat this historic feat.

But back to the colossus of the mainframe. It really was the 800 pound gorilla in the room because of the vast number of vacuum tubes used as switches for its logic circuits. These were very expensive, and they produced a lot of heat, too. What to do? The solution was a device developed by a team at Bell Labs in 1947 that earned them the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956. Thanks to Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain, computers shrunk from the size of a house to being as big as a fridge.


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