Forget Steampunk, here comes Electropunk!
August 26, 2012
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It is astonishing how close to a functioning computer our ancestors were in the 1830s. It is known by now that Charles Babbage‘s concept was sound, that his computer would have worked if he had had the necessary funds. His “Difference Engine” would have been mechanical, but electricity, too, was known far better than we are aware of. The electriy relay was invented in 1835, it was essential for the development of a world-wide telegraph network (morse code was developed soon after, the first transatlantic cable was laid 1858). In 1832, Hippolyte Pixii built the first dynamo based on the concept most electrical generators and motors still use. And in 1833, Michael Faraday first discovered the semiconductor effect.
There was a long time between this discovery and the first semiconductor diode, more than 70 years. But on the other hand, working vacuum tubes took something like 50 years too. If you’re into alternate history, it is not so entirely unthinkable that semiconductors might have been developed earlier and vacuum tubes skipped completely.
Another alternate history potential: Railroads. By the time Hippolyte Pixii built his dynamo, railroads were few and far between. They usually covered very short distances and were often mixed traction, both horses and steam engines. A bit less enthusiasm for building railroads, a bit more research into electricity, and steam engines might have been a footnote in engineering history, with electricity ruling the rails a century earlier. (An interesting side note: In 1903, an electric railcar set a speed record of 210.3 km/h. It was never broken by a steam engine.)
Forget steampunk, here comes electropunk!