What is the meaning of this headline? I got it from The Economist.

Difference Engine: Circle of life

1 Answer 1


Historically, a Difference Engine is an automatic mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions (the primary association being Charles Babbage, who built the most famous early one).

But in OP's context, it's the name of an occasional column in The Economist. Initially I thought the column might be excerpts from an alternate history novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, but apparently not (see below). But here are the titles of some instances of the column I found with no trouble...

Difference Engine: The caring robot
Difference Engine: Unplugging the cables
Difference Engine: Circle of life

The "Circle of Life" part simply refers to the natural cycle of vegetation being burnt and recovering. That's a matter of concern in California today, where for many decades the authorities have been actively trying to prevent/extinguish forest fires. It now seems that interfering with the natural cycle in such ways may create more problems than it solves.

The Economist has a column/blog called Babbage, where the "about" link leads to About Babbage: Reports on the intersections between science, technology, culture and policy, in a blog named after Charles Babbage, a Victorian mathematician and engineer.

Taking that into account, when OP actually reads the article itself, s/he should assume that all references to "Babbage" in the text actually mean "the author of this column".

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