Enter Babbage (And Lovelace) And the Incredible Analytical Engine

Enter Babbage (And Lovelace) And the Incredible Analytical Engine October 18, 2018

 

 

As it happens Charles Babbage died on this day in 1871. As I sit facing my computer I find myself thinking about him, and of course, the countess, and, well…

Charles Babbage was born. Of that we’re sure. Probably in London. And probably on the 26th of December, 1791.

Babbage was burn into a banking family. He attended Cambridge, starting at Trinity but eventually transferring to Peterhouse. While there he joined a number of societies, including, according to Wikipedia “The Ghost Club, concerned with investigating supernatural phenomena, and the Extractors Club, dedicated to liberating its members from the madhouse, should any be committed to one.” He also demonstrated brilliance in mathematics.

He graduated without sitting for examination, possibly related to allegations of blasphemy. This did not prevent him from being elected a fellow of the Royal Society. But he failed in several attempts at obtaining professorships and instead relied on family money, eventually inheriting a fortune. Finally in 1828 he was appointed to a professorship at Cambridge. He had an illustrious career, although a foray into politics was not successful, and died on the 18 October, 1871.

Critical among his astonishingly diverse interests was the development of an “Analytical Engine.” With this Babbage became the “father of the computer,” as Wikipedia tells us “inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex electronic designs, though all the essential ideas of modern computers are to be found in Babbage’s analytical engine.”

What’s interesting to many of us is that computer seems to also have had a mother. While working on his Analytical Engine, Babbage engaged in correspondence with the equally remarkable Ada Lovelace. Lovelace was the only “legitimate” child of Lord Byron. Wikipedia tells us, “She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is sometimes regarded as the first to recognise the full potential of a “computing machine” and the first computer programmer.”

Naturally Babbage and Lovelace have captured many an imagination. Probably my favorite exploration of this remarkable team is the graphic novel reimagining them in a steampunk world, the “mostly true” Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. Worth checking out…

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