About us

About us

The United States is more unequal today than at any another time in its history.

Issues of social inequality, racism and economic disparity remain at the forefront of the most serious challenges facing America. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified their complexity and diminished the confidence and resources of many Americans, yielding serious implications for our nation’s overall health, security and social cohesion. Moreover, business, government and civil sectors have put forth few sustainable solutions.

That's where the
Difference Engine at
ASU comes in.

It’s a different kind of academic center than you may be used to: one that moves beyond publishing research and reports to create tangible and useful products that communities can use to help reduce the effects of inequality: from an iPhone app to a Power and Influence Index (WPI).


Hear from Ehsan Zaffar on the founding of The Difference Engine
View the webinar launching The Difference Engine


Why the Difference Engine

The Difference Engine has a story

The Difference Engine has a story: it was the first automatic computing engine built through a collaboration between Charles Babbage (the first inventor of the modern computer) and Ada Lovelace (the first modern computer programmer). The device was well ahead of its time and led directly to the advent of modern computing. Babbage and Lovelace sought to use their Difference Engine to lessen the negative impact of the Industrial Age on a new class of “wage workers” who were often being taken advantage of by factory bosses.

For instance, one of the first uses of the Difference Engine was to create the first time clock to make it difficult for factory owners to overwork their staff. Lovelace and Babbage also used the Engine to lessen the mindless physical drudgery of factory work by automating rote tasks; and also used it to determine how shoddy structures in lower-income and earthquake-prone areas would be affected by aftershocks.

I love what the story represents

The Difference Engine was one of the first modern examples of how academic rigor, cutting-edge technology and entrepreneurship - brought together in a collaboration of equals during a time of stratified gender inequality - had the potential to transform humankind for the better. It’s a story of how the fruits of economic enterprise can be employed to better that enterprise and create an atmosphere of equity which then leads to positive change for the enterprise itself (the so-called “virtuous cycle”). The name and its story encapsulate my vision for the Center - an outfit that leverages the funds, goodwill and thought leadership of the economic, social and political sectors to discuss the structural inequality inherent within these sectors but then also DOES something about those issues to make a difference for the underlying sectors that give birth to the inequality itself.

The Difference Engine Book

Read more about the launch of The Difference Engine in this press release.