Charles Babbage

Babbage's Technical Contribution

Babbage's design of the Analytical Machine was intended as a machine for calculating complicated mathematic functions and was not intended for use outside of mathematics. It was the vision of Ada Lovelace who realised the full potential of the machine and it's application to more than just mathematics. She first supposed using the machine to compose pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent. This vision of Lovelace's showed the capabilities of modern computers over one hundred years before they were fully realised and she is often considered the worlds 'first programmer' due to her work with Babbage on the machine.

Closeup of gears of the Difference Engine, London Science Museum

The Analytical Machine had all the components of the modern day computer including an arithmetic logic unit, control flow in the forms of conditional branches and loops and integrated memory as well as an input and an output device. The input was fed in through punch cards inspired by looms that weaved different patterns into cloth depending on the punch cards thread into the loom. The device could hold 1000 numbers of 40 decimal digits each, around 17kb, in it's memory. These numbers could then be worked on by the 'CPU', or the mill as Babbage called it.

Despite all Babbage's work, many of his plans and visions fell into obscurity. Builders of the first electro-mechanical and electronic computing machines in the 1930s and 40s were unaware of his work and had to reinvent many of the architectural innovations that Babbage has already invented. Babbage designed his machine before the advent of electricity and planned to run his machine from a steam engine, a distinguished technology of the day. Recent advances in nanotechnology have lead to experiments in mechanical computation on the nano-scale. The benefits of these systems are that they can work in high radiation or high temperature environments far better than the modern computers of today.

Punch cards intended to be used to feed data and instructions into the Analytical Engine

Along with his work on the Analytical Machine, Babbage was a pioneer of mathematics and philosophy. He published several papers ranging from 'Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of Its Causes' to 'Table of Logarithms from 1 to 108000'. He also believed that the French had a better understanding of calculus than the British did at the time, this lead to him and his colleagues spending time translating French papers and books on calculus into English altering the standards of notation from n' to dy/dx that we still use today.

All images used are from the Wikimedia Commons Library, CC