Steve Jobs is dead. Some say it was pancreatic cancer. But others of us know better. Steve isn’t dead at all. A man like Steve can’t really be killed by anything.
For this tribute to Steve Jobs, we have to travel back in time nearly 200 years, to the dawn of the computer age.
Nineteenth century British mathematician Charles Babbage designed (in theory) a machine, with gears and cranks, that would calculate equations up to around 31 decimal places. A pre-digital calculator. A computational device. A computer.
Babbage later designed (in theory) another computational machine that would figure even more complex algorithms. He wanted to power this machine with steam. It was to be named “The Analytical Engine.”
Neither of these machines were ever finished to working completion. In the 1820s, finding the precise parts, pieces, metals, and milling would cost millions and millions of dollars. It was difficult to get the funding and Babbage wasn’t known for his charming demeanor and graces.
If Babbage had been successful, the computer age would have arrived a century before the real-Steve-Jobs-Bill-Gates-computer-age. A computer age filled with clunky, clangy, loud, steam-powered thought turbines.
It never happened though. Binary computers were eventually born around World War II. And Babbage’s inventions were almost lost to history. Almost.
Click to watch a blueprint-accurate replica of Babbage’s “Difference Engine” in action.
Babbage made the mistake of believing that new ideas sell themselves. That there would be a line of interested investors. They did not appear. In fact, it’s usually just the opposite. New ideas are usually railed against. Denounced. Repudiated. Ridiculed.
Enter Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Jobs didn’t build anything in the early days of Apple. He left the building and programming and designing to his friend, Steve Wozniak, otherwise known as “The Woz.” There were more important things for Jobs to do. Who has time to create and build and invent when you can be charming and charismatic and magnetic?
It is argued that The Woz built and designed some of Apple’s first computer circuit boards in the mid-1970s. These were very primitive boards that interfaced with your television. It was still revolutionary.
And they sold, bringing in over six-hundred dollars per unit. (And those were 1970’s dollars.)
To simplify the relationship, The Woz built the stuff and Steve Jobs showed it off and sold it. It seemed to work really well.
Apple is arguably one of the most profitable companies in the world. Their product designs are beautiful and streamlined. No bolts or holes. Their stores are like Mecca to computer geeks. Steve is a cyber-God to a lost generation of nihilistic techno-freaks.
But Jobs could not have built the early circuit boards. Jobs was a genius, the Woz had the
engineering and know how. But the Woz was just a computer geek, grimy looking, not charismatic. The Woz couldn’t sell a life-preserver to a drowning man. Both men are extremely intelligent, but they needed each other.
This is what Babbage forgot with his difference engine nearly 200 years ago. He was the inventor and the idealist. But he wasn’t a salesmen. He couldn’t raise the capital needed for his project. People don’t always catch on. They need a salesperson to demonstrate how to care about the product. This was Steve Jobs.
In the end, it all worked out.
Babbage, despite his “failure” for never having produced a real working difference engine was still admitted into the Royal Society. And one part of Steve Jobs’ analog body, the temporal part of him made of ancient stardust connecting for a few years inside an expanding universe, ended. But that was only part of Steve Jobs.
Babbage could see the future, but he couldn’t see the world directly in front of him. He needed a Steve Jobs to make people care about computational devices. That’s not easy. Just ask Giordano Bruno about teaching the Medieval world about its true nature. Or the inventor of sliced bread, an idea that took a long time to catch on.
It will be a long time before another person comes along who can inspire the world like Jobs. Many people mourn the void he left with his passing.
But trust me, we haven’t seen the end of Steve.
What Is More Important: Invention or Charisma? Weigh in and let us know what you think.