There are many Charles Babbage inventions, but Babbage will forever be known as the father of the computer. He pioneered the idea and created the first working model of the mechanical computer. The incentive behind the initiative to create the first computer, came with the wish to improve reality as he saw it, an incentive many inventors share.
Babbage saw a high rate of errors in the mathematical and logarithmic tables of his day, and wanted to create a machine that would effectively eliminate the human error factor in mathematical computations. The result: he managed to invent and produce machines that replaced human computations, by calculating more accurately.
The importance of his inventions is huge: Charles Babbage inventions set in motion a process which led to our ability to enjoy the benefits of computers today, including the internet!
It all began in the year 1812, when Babbage sat in his room looking over a logarithmic table and realizing that it was riddled with errors. He then came up with the idea of creating a machine that has the capability of making tabular computations and calculations.
At that time when no computers or calculators were yet in existence, division of labor in computing has been invented by the French. The process actually seems strange when you think about it. Several mathematical tables have been produced from a computing method which involves many people.
The procedure was figured out by three to four French mathematicians. About half a dozen more people divided the operations down into simpler stages, and the resulting work, which was simply adding and subtracting, was performed by 80 people, whose only mathematical abilities were to do such simple operations. This was the first instance in history where arithmetic was subjected to a capitalist-like division of labor and mass production. This prompted Babbage’s mind to conceive the brilliant idea of letting machines do the labor of computing, making the process faster and more accurate.
The machines built by Babbage and many other Charles Babbage inventions are considered to be some of the earliest mechanical computers. However, these were not actually fully constructed due to problems in funds and some personal issues Babbage faced.
Babbage had somewhat successfully directed the construction of machines that are powered by steam, which functioned in mechanizing calculations. These were unwieldy and mechanical, although the basics of their structure and architecture already resembled that of the modern computer.
The first computers had many similarities as well as differences with computers as we know them today. Do you know that during Babbage’s time, people who made mathematical computations were called “computers”? This is similar to the concept of bus conductors who “conduct” vehicles. Fascinating and strange, isn’t it, considering that nobody in their right mind would name any person a computer nowadays. Charles Babbage inventions were the transformative factor in it all.
The high rate of error made by humans in computing drove Babbage to create the so-called difference engine in 1822.
This machine computed more complex (polynomial) equations, and it could automatically calculate more values. It did away with manual (or human) multiplication and division. Unfortunately, it was never finished.
If fully constructed, it would have weighed more than thirteen tons! Imagine that, when our modern calculator, which weigh less than a kilo, can compute far more complex mathematical equations. The difference engine would also have been eight feet tall and have twenty five thousand parts.
Babbage went on to improve his model into a second difference engine, and this time, it was able to compute its first operation, which produced a result of 31 digits.
Babbage soon started work on the more complex Analytical Engine machine. This was a succession of many designs that he worked on until he died in 1871. In it, he realized that programs can be incorporated into punched cards, and these cards can be put into the machine in order to run a specific computation. This machine was also designed to have several features that are used in modern computers as we know them today.
Despite the widespread use of modern technology, Babbage’s mechanical computer still has many potential modern uses that come out of its capacity to endure conditions of high temperature or extreme radiation.
Babbage was also a fine example of the influence of inner inspiration. As the popular story goes, he literally dreamt his invention up.
He was also noted in his thoughts on politics and theology, and formulated what is now known as the Babbage principle, which concerns division of labor. He contributed to the establishment of England’s postal system, and was the first to compile actuarial tables that are reliable. He is also a notable figure in the field of statistics.
Other Charles Babbage inventions include discoveries in cracking cryptic codes. He also invented the cow-catcher or pilot, a metal device in trains that clears obstacles from the tracks. Notably, he also invented a prototype ophthalmoscope, which was not widely used immediately after he invented it.
All in all, Babbage was a very prolific inventor and thinker, his only known prominent fault being a tendency to be quarrelsome and prone to issues concerning personality. However, this could be a common trait among inventive geniuses. And when one sees Charles Babbage inventions, one cannot argue that the man had a stroke of genius.
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