VOLUME 1, ISSUE 3 (MAY ‘08)
Mathematician, philosopher, computer scientist are the various roles whichCharles Babbage, a renowned personal-ity, assumed. He was the man behind theinception of the idea of a programmablecomputer. Here we try to explore some of his lesser known dimensions.Born in 1791 in London in one of therichest families of that time, Charles re-ceived his elementary education fromseveral elite schools and teachers. Butaround the age of 8 he was sent to a coun-try school near Exeter to recover from alife-threatening fever. His parents orderedthat his “
brain was not to be taxed toomuch
” and Babbage felt that “
this great idleness may have led to some of mychildish reasonings
.” He then joined a30-student Holmwood academy whichhad a well-stocked library that promptedBabbage's love of mathematics. He stud-ied with two more private tutors after leaving the academy. The young Charleswas always interested in mechanical giz-mos and this experimental approach gotreflected in one of the greatest innovativeexperiments of that time- walking on theriver Dart. He attached to his each foottwo boards closely connected together byhinges fixed to the shoe-sole. Accordingto him, when he would lift his leg up, thetwo boards would close up towards eachother while on pushing down his foot, thewater would rush between the boardscausing them to open out into a flat sur-face, thereby offering him greater resis-tance towards sinking in the water. Hetook a pair of boots for the experiment andcut a couple of old volumes with thick bindings. In this way, he fixed the boards by the hinges.Equipped with his machine, he went downto the river to test his discovery. He couldmanage to float down the river with a veryslight exertion of force. Unfortunately theapparatus malfunctioned and Charles wasnearly drowned. Nevertheless, the experi-ment became the torchbearer of manyfuture experiments. Babbage went toCambridge in 1810, his eyes twinklingIt is important here to revisit the differ-ence between invention and innovation.Innovation is invention + commercializa-tion, i.e. putting the invention to a use for the people. While new firms have thecapability and incentive to go for radicalinnovation, existing companies might nothave the same, and contribute to onlyincremental change. At the same time,The debate over who is mostlikely to innovate dates back to,at least Schumpeter, who firstsuggested that small entrepre-neurial firms innovate. Later people suggested that largefirms with some degree of mo-nopoly power in their businesshave the potential and will toinnovate. The focus has shiftedto individuals and then back tofirms. But with the evolutionof study on ‘innovation’ per se, better classification mecha-nisms have arisen. These at-tempt to categorize the type of innovation and then explain thesource of the same.The first is a simple distinction betweenincremental and radical innovation, whichas the name suggests is based on the extentto which the technological knowledge re-quired for the innovation differs from ex-isting knowledge. Similarly one couldclassify it as radical or incremental basedon the economic impact of the innovation.there have been examples of largecompanies like GE adopting radicalinnovations while well-established players like Xerox have failed torecognize incremental innovation.To solve this dilemma, other inno-vation models have been proposed,which are quite interesting. Theseclassify the innovation on the basisof the architectural components thatthey alter or on the basis of the mar-ket disruption that they cause. It’soften believed that well establishedcompanies have more marketknowledge and they can thus cater to the requirements of the customersin terms of the innovation.While all these are static ways of classify-ing innovations, the actual technology goesthrough different life-cycles, and hence thedynamic nature of innovation is also impor-tant. In this respect, many people are famil-iar with Foster’s S curve, which shows thattechnology goes through the phases of slowgrowth, then rapid growth and finally ma-turity. (Contd. on Page 10)
Charles Babbage Unplugged Who Innovates?
with the joy of getting hisdifficulties in Mathemat-ics explained. But hishigh hopes of Cambridgespeedily dissolved as hewas also disappointed bythe professors there. Charles found him-self actively participating in various so-cieties and associations formed in Cam- bridge. At the age of 30, he began to con-struct a machine for making mathemati-cal tables. Building his first DifferenceEngine led to crucial advances in ma-chine tools and engineering techniquesaffecting the whole development of preci-sion mechanical engineering. In 1834,Babbage started working on the AnalyticsEngine. These are one of the greatestintellectual achievements in the history of the mankind. While constructing his firstengine, he developed his doctrine for the
union of theory and practice
. He also ledmany campaigns for the application of scientific methods to solve industrial problems.
Compiled by: Anshuman and Rahul
Attacker's Advantage, R. Foster, 1986