The Mysterious Visit of Mr Babbage, by Bruce Sterling (2017)

Sunday 11th February, 2024 - Bruce Sterling

First published in “Archivio #1,” Turin Italy, 2017.

It seems fantastic that scholars in Torino in 1840 discussed computers, punch cards, programs, data, and memory storage. But the archives prove that they did…

Our story is well-known among historians of computing. Mr Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace are world-famous nowadays. But despite the archives of Torino, much remains unexplained, and much may never be known.

I once wrote a uchronian novel called The Difference Engine, along with my co-author, William Gibson. This book was named after Babbage’s failed invention, and the novel imagines how our world might have differed if Babbage had been successful. In Italy this book’s translation is known as La macchina della realtà— a machine that creates another reality.

Uchronias are works of fiction that speculate about different paths history might have taken. In September 1840, the Turinese knew more about computing than anyone else in the world. A strange premise for unusual developments. Something might have come of that.

What happened in Torino, 1840? How did Torino play a role in this sad and troubling story of so many lost opportunities? Why did Charles Babbage choose Torino, capital of the Kingdom of Sardegna, for the only public revelation of his Analytical Engine?…