BOX 2.1 Ideas Require Technology, Funding, and Management

Had it been built, the analytical engine of Charles Babbage would have been the first general-purpose computing machine, although, belonging to the mid-1800s, it would have been implemented mechanically rather than electronically. For many years, historians of computing have believed that the analytical engine was never built because the engineering techniques of the time could not support its construction (perhaps due to insufficiently precise manufacturing tolerances). In this view, the first general-purpose computing machine had to wait until the advent of electronic technology.

Recent evidence suggests that this view is inaccurate. Indeed, in 1991, a working model of the analytical engine was built, using only parts that could have been manufactured in the 1840s. The engineers responsible for building this working model argue that Babbage was unable to build the analytical engine not because of a lack of an appropriate implementing technology, but because of his inability to keep costs under control.

SOURCE: Swade, Doron. 1993. "Redeeming Charles Babbage's Mechanical Computer," Scientific American 261 (February):86–91.

or rubella vaccine) is unquestionably a contribution, because of the constraints imposed by the physical world and the creation's relationship to other physical phenomena. In a synthetic discipline such as ECSE, however, where it is straightforward to create something new, novelty is not enough to establish a contribution. Frederick Brooks of the University of North Carolina points out that the evaluation of scholarly work in synthetic fields is subject to an obligation that is not characteristic in natural fields. In particular, he observes that:

When one discovers a fact about nature, it is a contribution per se no matter how small. Since anyone can create something new [in a synthetic field], that alone does not establish a contribution. Rather one must show that the creation is better.1

This task—establishing that a creation is better and a contribution has been made—is intimately connected with the artifact in ECSE.


Personal communication to the committee, October 1992.

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