Babbage, Charles ==>
<person> The british inventor known to some as the "Father of Computing"
for his contributions to the basic design of the computer through his Analytical
Engine. His previous Difference Engine was a special purpose device intended for
the production of mathematical tables.
Babbage was born on December 26, 1791 in Teignmouth, Devonshire UK. He entered
Trinity College, Cambridge in 1814 and graduated from Peterhouse. In 1817 he
received an MA from Cambridge and in 1823 started work on the Difference Engine
through funding from the British Government. In 1827 he published a table of
logarithms from 1 to 108000. In 1828 he was appointed to the Lucasian Chair of
Mathematics at Cambridge (though he never presented a lecture). In 1831 he
founded the British Association for the Advancement of Science and in 1832 he
published "Economy of Manufactures and Machinery". In 1833 he began work on the
Analytical Engine. In 1834 he founded the Statistical Society of London. He died
in 1871 in London.
Babbage also invented the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, standard railroad gauge,
uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals,
and the heliograph opthalmoscope. He also had an interest in cyphers and
[Adapted from the text by J. A. N. Lee, Copyright September 1994].
Babbage, as (necessarily) the first person to work with machines that can attack
problems at arbitrary levels of abstraction, fell into a trap familiar to
toolsmiths since, as described here by the English ethicist, Lord Moulton:
"One of the sad memories of my life is a visit to the celebrated mathematician
and inventor, Mr Babbage. He was far advanced in age, but his mind was still as
vigorous as ever. He took me through his work-rooms. In the first room I saw
parts of the original Calculating Machine, which had been shown in an incomplete
state many years before and had even been put to some use. I asked him about its
present form. 'I have not finished it because in working at it I came on the
idea of my Analytical Machine, which would do all that it was capable of doing
and much more. Indeed, the idea was so much simpler that it would have taken
more work to complete the Calculating Machine than to design and construct the
other in its entirety, so I turned my attention to the Analytical Machine.'"
"After a few minutes' talk, we went into the next work-room, where he showed and
explained to me the working of the elements of the Analytical Machine. I asked
if I could see it. 'I have never completed it,' he said, 'because I hit upon an
idea of doing the same thing by a different and far more effective method, and
this rendered it useless to proceed on the old lines.' Then we went into the
third room. There lay scattered bits of mechanism, but I saw no trace of any
working machine. Very cautiously I approached the subject, and received the
dreaded answer, 'It is not constructed yet, but I am working on it, and it will
take less time to construct it altogether than it would have token to complete
the Analytical Machine from the stage in which I left it.' I took leave of the
old man with a heavy heart."
"When he died a few years later, not only had he constructed no machine, but the
verdict of a jury of kind and sympathetic scientific men who were deputed to
pronounce upon what he had left behind him, either in papers or in mechanism,
was that everything was too incomplete of be capable of being put to any useful
[Lord Moulton, "The invention of algorithms, its genesis, and growth", in G. C.
Knott, ed., "Napier tercentenary memorial volume" (London, 1915), p. 1-24;
quoted in Charles Babbage "Passage from the Life of a Philosopher", Martin
Campbell-Kelly, ed. (Rutgers U. Press and IEEE Press, 1994), p. 34].
Compare: uninteresting, Ninety-Ninety Rule.
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