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Who Invented the Computer

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Who Invented the Computer

Charles Babbage, the person who invented the computer, was also a profound philosopher. He was the person who broke the indecipherable cipher and tried to establish the reason of man’s creation.

“I am thinking that all these logarithmic tables might be calculated by machinery.” – Charles Babbage. His distaste for the errors that were committed while calculating various equations using logarithmic tables, forced him to design various calculating machines (analytical and difference engines). There is a lot that went into the invention of computers.

Who Invented the Computer?

“Who invented the computer and what year?” The answer to the first part of the question is Charles Babbage. Interestingly, the implementation of the design of what should have been the first computer was actually completed in 1989. But, if the question is “Who invented the computer first and electronically?” then it is John Presper Eckert & John W. Mauchly. They built the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). Then why is Charles Babbage given the credit of inventing the computer? Charles Babbage was the first person to introduce the idea of “programmable machines”. Charles Babbage hardly imagined that his distaste for human errors would one day result in inventions such as desktop computers and laptop computers.

To reach today’s era of artificial intelligence, natural language processing and high power processing, computer inventions had to go through various generations. This all started with Charles Babbage’s difference engine in 1822. The difference engines and analytical engines (if completed) would be heavily mechanical. Their weight would be in tons (although analytical and difference engine are not considered to be of any generation, let us consider them to be of zeroth generation for the sake of reference). The main feature of first generation (1940 – 1956) computers was vacuum tubes. The architecture of second generation (1956 – 1963) computers was based on transistors. Third generation computers (1964 – 1971) saw the introduction of integrated circuits. And fourth generation (1971 – present) computers are based on microprocessors. And now we are in the fifth generation (present – henceforth) of computers, where artificial intelligence takes precedence. Following is the story of the man who invented the computer, and when he did that, little did the world know that Charles Babbage had managed to alter the course of history .

Early Years

Charles’ father, Benjamin Babbage, was a businessman. Therefore, money wasn’t a hindrance for young Charles’ education. Young Charles went to many schools and was home tutored before he went to Helmond Academy in Baker street. This is where his romance with mathematics began. Later he went to Cambridge for further studies. He was subsequently transferred to Peterhouse Cambridge where he studied analytical philosophy and computer science. However, he never really graduated with honors. Charles Babbage was later conferred with an honorary degree in mathematics.

Since Charles Babbage was a profound mathematician, he soon started researching on various mathematical subjects. While doing so, he had to encounter a lot of logarithmic calculations. The only way to perform these calculations was through the use of logarithmic tables. Since there were no mechanical calculators in those times, the use of logarithmic tables became very tedious and erroneous. This experience was very hampering to the study of mathematics. Also, the accurate results would take forever to be calculated, hence, Charles decided to design a machine, which not only would save time but (more importantly) be accurate as well.

Design of Charles’ Computer

In the early nineteenth century, mathematical tables were calculated by ‘computers’. These were people who were assigned the task of computing, and hence were called computers. Due to this, there was a high rate of errors. Having studied computer science and being an acclaimed mathematician, it was obvious to him that he should build a calculating machine. Babbage started working on the design of an engine which would analyze input and give appropriate output.

Since his design was meant to eliminate differential errors involving mathematical tables, it was called ‘difference engine’. Difference engine was to calculate the finite differences, and thereby avoid the need for multiplication and division. But unfortunately, due to the huge size and the complexity of the design, Charles Babbage couldn’t complete it. But this did not deter him from designing difference engine 2, which was an improved version of the original difference engine.

After his failure to implement his designs of difference engine, Charles Babbage came to the conclusion that his engine designs needed improvement. He then started to design engines that were better in analysis than their predecessors. The successive designs were more efficient and complex than the previous ones. These complex machines were called analytical engines. Due to continuous work in the design, any one machine couldn’t be called an analytical engine. His final design of the analytical engine was implemented only in 1989, which is far more accurate than today’s electronic calculator.

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A Few Interesting Facts about Charles’ Kookiness

  • Charles Babbage had a flair for breaking highly complicated ciphers and never claimed credit for it
  • He invented the ophthalmoscope, and completely forgot about it. It was eventually invented independently by Harmonn Von Helmholts
  • Charles Babbage coined the principle: Paying high to highly skilled workers saved cost.
  • He published “Ninth Bridge Water Treatise”, which basically gave reason for the creation of man.
  • Wrote to Alfred Tennyson that his assumption in a poem was wrong.

A Few other Interesting Facts

Question: Who invented the mouse?
Answer: Douglas Engelbart.

Question: Who invented the keyboard?
Answer: Christopher Latham Sholes.

Question: Who invented the computer compiler?
Answer: Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper.

Question: Who invented the computer monitor?
Answer: Allen B. DuMont.

Question: Who invented the computer printer?
Answer: Chester Carlson.

John Vincent Atanasoff, J. Prespert Eckert and John W. Mauchly are inventors who are also credited with inventing the 20th century modern computers, their creation was called ‘Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer’. Charles Babbage is fondly remembered for the invention of the computer, and has had a very deep impact on the history of computers. Along with Ada Lovelace, he was among the first few computer programmers. But he always wished to be remembered, not as the one who invented the computer, but as a great mathematician.


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