Faces of HPC: Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage is known as ‘the father of computing’ having designed the first computers, the ‘Difference Engine’, the ‘Analytical Engine’ and the ‘Second Difference Engine’.
Charles Babbage was a polymath; a mathematician, philosopher, mechanical engineer and inventor. He was the first to design a programmable computer, although the computer was not constructed during his lifetime.
Babbage was born in London in 1791. His father, Benjamin Babbage, was a banker. Charles attempted to go to school multiple times, but due to his fragile health, he had to stay home and received private teaching instead. During his studies he became very interested in mathematics and entered the University of Cambridge in 1810 to study Maths. Babbage was disappointed with the Cambridge the maths programme and transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge. Even though he was the top mathematician there, he did not manage to finish his degree with honours, he only received an honorary degree later, in 1814, without examination.
During Babbage’s lifetime the calculation and generation of mathematical tables was often prone to many multiple errors and inaccuracies. In 1822, Babbage presented his design for the Difference Engine to the Royal Astronomical Society. This engine would solve polynomial equations using the difference method. He was granted funding from the government, but he never managed to finish building the machine for a variety of technical and personal reasons. While working on the Difference Engine, he was also designing the Analytical Engine, a computer that could compute any calculation, and also use its own output as input for future calculations. Finally, Babbage also started designing his Second Difference Engine, using knowledge gained from the Analytical Engine. However, he never attempted to construct this machine.
Babbage received a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society for his inventions and he was a Lucasian professor at the University of Cambridge between 1828 and 1839. His Difference Engine was constructed later using his designs and functioned perfectly. He died in London on 18th October 1871.