Quick when was the first programmable computer designed? If you said the early 19th century … well, you probably looked at the headline. But you might be right, and researchers in Britain are currently planning to test that theory. They’re about to spend 10 years and millions of dollars trying to build the Babbage Analytical Machine, a massive punch card computer dreamed up by eccentric mathematician Charles Babbage in the 1830s, the New York Times reports.
Babbage never built the analytical machine, and experts have spent years arguing about whether it would have worked. Complicating matters: Babbage was constantly tinkering with his design, so there’s no single blueprint to follow. So a variety of plans will be posted online next year, with the public invited to sort through them and suggest which parts should be incorporated. Researchers will then build a computer model of the room-sized machine and—hopefully—construct it at the Science Museum in London. Click for more on an earlier Babbage reclamation project. (Read more Charles Babbage stories.)