He never lived to see it work, but it worked. Charles Babbage, a British mathematician and mechanical engineer born in 1791, dabbled in any number of scientific endeavors in his lifetime. In the 1820s, Babbage began devising a machine that could compile mathematical tables. Completing the machine in 1832, which he called the Difference Engine, Babbage imagined a machine that could do more.
Dubbed the Analytical Machine, the machine was meant to have programs that would be read through punch cards and have what Babbage and assistant Ada Lovelace referred to as a "store," holding 1,000 numbers. Today, we would refer to the "store" as computer memory. In fact, the Analytical Machine's design was remarkably similar to what computers would become a century later.
But Babbage struggled with funding. He tried, in vain, to get the British government to fund the construction of his machine. If they had, world history would have changed forever. But they didn't, and Babbage died in 1871 with only a small part of the machine built. Babbage's son, Henry Prevost Babbage, kept work alive on the machine after his father's death. The multi-generational effort finally proved itself today in 1888, when the Analytical Machine was able to calculate several multiples of pi. But progress would remain slow, with the advent only reported to the wider scientific community in 1910.
Our question of the week is all about codes. With encrypted apps like Signal on the rise, we were wondering, do you have any favorite code systems? I'm a bit of a cipher nerd, from Atbash to Vigenére. Have you ever written a coded letter or used some form of misdirection to transmit a message? Your secrets are safe with us at firstname.lastname@example.org (and all our readers, of course).
Ready Player One — SpaceX Mars city: Elon Musk finally responds to survival video game pitch
It's finally happened: a budding video game developer, who asked Elon Musk every day for nearly half a year to use SpaceX's logo in his game, has received a reply.
Lyubomir Vladimirov, a Bulgaria-based developer, has been working on a simulator themed around Musk's plan to colonize Mars. The game, Mars is Flat, features iconic designs from Musk's firms, like the upcoming Tesla Cybertruck electric car and SpaceX Starship rocket. The website bills the game as a "highly technical Mars survival simulator."
What they're saying: "I will post this every day for a year or until I get a Yes or a No!" —Lyubomir Vladimirov, game developer
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In 1709, a Japanese botanist became the first to describe how cats go wild for catnip and silver vine — plants that put felines into a state of drug-like euphoria. However, while it's very established cats are happy to rub their faces against these plants, what caused the evolution of this behavior — and why it triggers feline brains so powerfully — was not known.
In a new study, scientists suggest they've found those answers. Engaging with a newly identified chemical in silver fine activates a cat's opioid reward system, the study claims. This encourages the cat to interact with the stimulating substance and, in turn, possibly protect itself from an all-too-familiar pest.
What they're saying: "Nobody mentioned that 'nepetalactol' in silver vine [also] has the potential effect on cats." — Masao Miyazaki, a researcher at Iwate University, to Inverse.
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Ancient funds — When was money invented? A new study has the answer
The invention of currency might pose one of humanity's oldest questions: When was it invented and who was the creator? Archaeologists curious about this ancient query have struggled to pinpoint the exact moment of money's inception. Until now.
A research team based in the Netherlands has uncovered a point in Early Bronze Age history that may have been the beginning of currency as we know it. They used a new method for detecting evidence of standardized weights and measures — the telltale signs of emergent currency. Civilizations some 5,000-4,000 years ago (3,000-2,100 BC) used the weight of these objects to measure and use them as money.
What they're saying: "In short, prehistoric weight units quite literally need to make sense." — Maikel H. G. Kuijpers and Cătălin N. Popa, researchers.
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Coming soon ...
From Mister Miracle to Green Lantern, Tom King has brought a singular vision to comics, one unafraid to deal with complex issues but one also showing moments of true warmth and intimacy between characters. King has also brought that vision to, well, The Vision, his Eisner-winning take on Marvel's android superhero who desperately wants to be human. And now that WandaVision is out, King's influence is more apparent than ever. Coming soon on Inverse, an interview with comic author Tom King.
Around 13 billion years ago, the first stars were born. These massive ancient stars produced chemical elements — hydrogen and helium — and released these elements out into the cosmos. This cycle birthed the second generation of stars.
Most massive stars exist in pairs, bound by a common orbit. Scientists have long assumed these stellar companions were born next to one another. However, new research suggests the stars start off further apart and come closer together over the course of a million years.
Understanding the evolution of these massive stars helps us peek back into the early years of the universe's formation and the creation of stars like our Sun.
What they're saying: "The fact that massive stars are in close binaries affects their evolution. They emit a lot of energy and a lot of momentum that they transmit to their surroundings. They can even shape entire galaxies." — María Ramírez-Tannus, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, to Inverse.
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Both critics and supporters of Twitter’s recent ban of former President Donald Trump can agree on one thing: the power of the tech elite has risen considerably in recent years. No one elected Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, but their decisions have outsized effects on society.
It is perhaps ironic, then, that while their actions can influence the course of our democracy, tech elites appear to have an "ambiguous relationship" with the very philosophy underpinning this system of governance.
In a new study, researchers combed through 49,790 tweets and several public proclamations from members of this new elite to glean insights into their world views.
What they're saying: "Belief in meritocracy is one of the strongest features of the tech elite’s worldview." — John Torpey of the City University of New York, speaking to Inverse.
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- Why Elon Musk and others are rallying to support Jack Dorsey
- A flag for Mars: Elon Musk's city slowly gains an identity to call its own
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