Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Confusion of Ideas

On two occasions I have been asked, 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage Babbages' response was sufficiently condescending in the finest grumpy-IT-guy tradition (or perhaps this was just a reflection in his journal and he merely rolled his eyes at the time, boiling with internal rage). Holding the implicit assumption that, at least while operating a computer, a technician must forsake their humanity and act with perfect precision. The quote usually gets trucked out to ridicule someone who doesn't understand how computers work. You're supposed to be thinking of the CS manager who downloads and runs every .exe attachment, then wonders aloud (perhaps in your direction) why the damn machine doesn't work. "How the hell", we are expected to reflect, "would a computer getting the wrong inputs still produce the correct output? It's ridiculous!" Well the notion wasn't ridiculous. It was just ahead of its time by a few hundred years.

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