Charles Babbage Biography/Wiki, Mathematician and Computer Pioneer

by shubham

Charles Babbage Biography/Wiki

Charles Babbage (1791–1871) was an English mathematician and inventor. He is credited with designing the first digital automatic computer, which contained all the essential concepts found in the ones we use today.

Born in London, Charles Babbage studied at Trinity College Cambridge — although he had already taught himself many aspects of contemporary mathematics. It was during this time that he first had the idea of mechanically calculating mathematical tables.

In 1823, he obtained government support to design a projected machine, the Difference Engine, with a 20-decimal capacity. Like modern computers, it could store data for later processing. Charles began developing the mechanical engineering techniques while serving as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. However, the full room-sized engine was never built as the metalworking techniques of the era were not precise enough and too costly.

Facts: Charles Babbage

  • Known For: Originated the concept of a digital programmable computer.
  • Also Known As: The Father of Computing
  • Born: December 26, 1791 in London, England
  • Parents: Benjamin Babbage and Elizabeth Pumleigh Teape
  • Died: October 18, 1871 in London, England
  • Education: Cambridge University
  • Published Works: Passages from the Life of a PhilosopherReflections on the Decline of Science in England
  • Awards and Honors: Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • Spouse: Georgiana Whitmore
  • Children: Dugald, Benjamin, and Henry
  • Notable Quote: “The errors which arise from the absence of facts are far more numerous and more durable than those which result from unsound reasoning respecting true data.”

Charles Babbage Education

Charles Babbage was born on December 26, 1791, in London, England, the eldest of four children born to London banker Benjamin Babbage and Elizabeth Pumleigh Teape. Only Charles and his sister Mary Ann survived early childhood. The Babbage family was fairly well-to-do, and as the only surviving son, Charles had private tutors and was sent to the best schools, including Exeter, Enfield, Totnes, and Oxford before finally entering Trinity College at Cambridge in 1810.

At Trinity, Babbage read mathematics, and in 1812 he joined Peterhouse at Cambridge University, where he was the top mathematician. While at Peterhouse, he co-founded the Analytical Society, a more-or-less mock scientific society comprised of some of the best known young scientists in England. He also joined less-scholarly oriented student societies such as The Ghost Club, concerned with the investigation of supernatural phenomena, and the Extractors Club, dedicated to freeing its members from mental institutions they referred to as “madhouses,” should any be committed to one.

The Analytical Engine, a True Computer

By 1834, Babbage had ceased work on the Difference Engine and began to plan for a larger and more comprehensive machine he called the Analytical Engine. Babbage’s new machine was an enormous step forward. Capable of calculating more than one mathematical task, it was truly to be what we call “programmable” today.

Much like modern computers, Babbage’s Analytical Engine included an arithmetic logic unit, control flow in the form of conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory. Like the Jacquard loom, which had inspired Babbage years earlier, his Analytical Engine was to be programmed to perform calculations via punched cards. Results—output—would be provided on a printer, a curve plotter, and a bell.

Babbage and his machines

Mathematical tables were important in Babbage’s era for use in navigation, science and engineering. They were calculated by hand and then compiled into tables. Errors were sometimes made either in the calculation or in the compiling of the tables.

It is with this background that Babbage decided to design a mechanical device that could perform calculations. Such a machine would always be accurate and would save time and money.

Babbage began building his first small model of the calculating engine in 1819 and it was completed in 1822 (Difference Engine 0). The machine calculated and printed mathematical tables and was powered by cranking a handle. The machine was called a “difference engine” after the mathematical theory on which the machine’s operation was based.

The British government was interested in his machine and Babbage was given £1,700 to begin on a full scale machine (Difference Engine No. 1) . It was designed to calculate and tabulate polynomial functions. Over the following years, over £17,000 would be spent on the project.

Charles Babbage Biography

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The working difference engine at the Science Museum in London. Image: Geni.

Unfortunately making the parts required was costly. In 1832 a small working portion was built. However work on the full scale difference engine stopped in 1833.

If the difference engine had been built it would have had over 25,000 working parts, weighted over 13 metric tons and have been over 8 feet (2.4m) tall.

Personal and Death

In 1814, Babbage married Georgiana Whitmore. They had eight children together, but only three lived beyond childhood. His wife died in 1827.

Charles Babbage died on Oct. 18, 1871, aged 79. He is buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery in London. Cause of death was “renal inadequacy”

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