Lit 80, Fall 2013
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The Difference Engine Response

October 14th, 2013 | Posted by David Hemminger in Uncategorized

Reading The Difference Engine made me wonder more about how exactly the digital world and computation augment reality.  In the imagined London of 1855, there are no digital augmentations to reality at all, but since Babbage’s hypothetical Difference Engine (or really, his Analytical Engine, as his Difference Engine was only designed to evaluate polynomials), has become a physical reality, there are in fact what appear to be analog augmentations to reality.

While there is no “cyberspace” in the world of the Difference Engine, the presence of large-scale computation certainly has an effect on the characters’ day-to-day lives.  Every citizen has associated to them a unique number, which can be used to look up an extensive personal history (6).  Furthermore, given a good enough description of a person, it is possible to search for their government file and learn their number (163).  The imagined analog computers are also capable of keeping a shop’s records (13), and evaluating complex models for the movements of dinosaurs (141).  If we think of augmenting reality as simply adding on additional layers of information and tools with which we can better understand and interact with our world, then all of these things can certainly be thought of as augmentations to reality.  The idea that this could be the case for completely analog computers is an interesting idea, one that will affect how I think about the ways the digital world augments reality.

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