Who was Charles Babbage?
or how British ingenuity started the computer revolution?
Charles Babbage was born on December 26, 1791 in Teignmouth, Devonshire UK, the son of a wealthy London banker. He is universally acknowledged as the father of modern computing.
Going to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1810 he was, among other things, instrumental in the introduction of the Leibnitz Notation for calculus, which transformed mathematics for scholars. He graduated from Peterhouse with an MA in 1817.
Whilst studying a set of mathematical tables, the sort used as the basis for astronomical, engineering and navigational calculations with astronomer John Herschel, Babbage was
disgusted by the inaccuracies found in the Nautical Ephemeris for Finding Latitude and Longitude at Sea, he is said to have exclaimed “I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam”. These inaccuracies inspired his quest to build a series of machines capable of calculating these and other tables with a high degree of accuracy.
In 1823 he started work on the Difference Engine through funding from the British Government. By 1833 the Difference Engine No. 1 had become Difference Engine No. 2 with increased accuracy and wider scope. In addition Babbage was already working on his plans for an Analytical Engine which introduced the concepts of a ‘Mill’ (processor), a ‘Store’ (memory), ‘Operations Cards’ (programs) and ‘Variables Cards’ (data) the fundamentals of all modern computing.
- The analytical engine devised by Charles Babbage included 5 features crucial to future computers:
- an input device
- a storage facility to hold numbers for processing
- a processor or number calculator
- a control unit to direct tasks to be performed
- an output device
He held the Cambridge Lucasian Chair of Mathematics (held in the past by notables like Newton and presently by Steven Hawking) and was a Fellow of the Royal Society.
He died in 1871 in London.