THE REAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
ronment, a first step toward intelligence.And in using its own internal operations to influence future actions, it is exhibiting a tiny step to- ward self-awareness.
If Babbage’s machine had been used in industry, science, and gov- ernment, the Victorian age and our own might be different. But his concept pushedVictorian technology to its limits.The Analytical En- gine would have been an overwhelming piece of machinery, with some 50,000 components occupying a space of 500 cubic feet. Be- tween technical difficulties and Babbage’s failure to raise funds, this mechanical computer was never built (although in 1906, Babbage’s son built its mill portion and showed that it worked). So although Babbage and Lady Lovelace defined much of what a computer is and can do, it took future breakthroughs to produce practical devices.
ON AND OFF
The person responsible for the next conceptual link on the way to- ward machine intelligence appeared on the scene very nearly as Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein—George Boole,born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1815. This self-taught mathematician laid a theoretical basis for the modern computer by quantifying logical thought. In 1854, his Investigation into the Laws ofThought presented a new kind of algebra, in which mathematical equations were represented by logical statements that could take only one of the two values “true” or “false.” This Boolean algebra had no immediate application, but its binary nature proved compelling when it became apparent that electricity was the preferred medium for computers: The simplest conceivable electrical device, the on-off switch, controls exactly two states—cur- rent flowing or not flowing—which can just as easily be labeled“true” or “false.”
As irony would have it, difficulties in mechanical computation like those that stymied Babbage inspired the U.S. mathematician Claude Shannon to apply Boole’s ideas. In 1936, Shannon, a graduate student at MIT, was analyzing the behavior of a mechanical computer called the Differential Analyzer—a useful machine, but one that was