Considered a “father of the computer” the mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer and English Polymath Charles Babbage, FRS was born 26 December 1791. He is best remembered now for originating the concept of a programmable computer”, Babbage is credited with inventing the firstmechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs. His varied work in other fields has led him to be described as “pre-eminent” among the many polymaths of his century. Around the age of eight Babbage was sent to a country school inAlphington near Exeter to recover from a life-threatening fever. For a short time he attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, South Devon, but his health forced him back to private tutors for a time Babbage then joined Holmwood academy, in Baker Street, Enfield,Middlesex, The academy had a library that prompted Babbage’s love of mathematics. He studied with two more private tutors after leaving the academy. He was brought home, to study at the Totnes school: this was at age 16 or 17. The second was an Oxford tutor, under whom Babbage reached a level in Classics sufficient to be accepted by Cambridge.
Babbage arrived at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1810 He was already self-taught in some parts of contemporary mathematicshe had read in Robert Woodhouse, Joseph Louis Lagrange, and Marie Agnesi. As a result he was disappointed in the standard mathematical instruction available at Cambridge.Babbage, John Herschel, George Peacock, and several other friends formed the Analytical Society in 1812; they were also close toEdward Ryan. As a student, Babbage was also a member of other societies such as 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.In 1812 Babbage transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was the top mathematician there, but did not graduate with honours. He instead received a degree without examination in 1814. He had defended a thesis that was considered blasphemous in the preliminary public disputation;
, Babbage quickly made progress. He lectured to the Royal Institution on astronomy in 1815, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1816.After graduation, he was a candidate for a teaching job at Haileybury College; he had recommendations fromJames Ivory and John Playfair, but lost out to Henry Walter. In 1819, Babbage and Herschel visited Paris and the Society of Arcueil, meeting leading French mathematicians and physicists That year Babbage applied to be professor at the University of Edinburgh, with the recommendation of Pierre Simon Laplace; the post went to William Wallace.]With Herschel, Babbage worked on the electrodynamics of Arago’s rotations, publishing in 1825. Their explanations were only transitional, being picked up and broadened by Michael Faraday. The phenomena are now part of the theory of eddy currents, and Babbage and Herschel missed some of the clues to unification of electromagnetic theory, staying close to Ampère’s force law.Babbage purchased the actuarial tables of George Barrett, who died in 1821 leaving unpublished work, and surveyed the field in 1826 in Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of LivesThis interest followed a project to set up an insurance company, prompted by Francis Baily and mooted in 1824, but not carried out. Babbage did calculate actuarial tables for that scheme, using Equitable Society mortality data from 1762
Babbage helped found the Astronomical Society in 1820. Its initial aims were to reduce astronomical calculations to a more standard form, and to circulate dataThese directions were closely connected with Babbage’s ideas on computation, and in 1824 he won its Gold Medal, cited “for his invention of an engine for calculating mathematical and astronomical tables”.Babbage’s motivation to overcome errors in tables by mechanisation has been a commonplace since Dionysius Lardner wrote about it in 1834 in the Edinburgh Review (under Babbage’s guidance).The context of these developments is still debated. Babbage’s own account of the origin of the difference engine begins with the Astronomical Society’s wish to improve The Nautical Almanac. Babbage and Herschel were asked to oversee a trial project, to recalculate some part of those tables. With the results to hand, discrepancies were found. So Babbage formulated his idea for mechanical computation Babbage studied the requirements to establish a modern postal system, with his friendThomas Frederick Colby, concluding there should be a uniform rate that was put into effect with the introduction of the Uniform Fourpenny Post supplanted by the Uniform Penny Post. in 1839 and 1840 Colby was another of the founding group of the Society. He was also in charge of the Survey of Ireland. Herschel and Babbage were present at the remeasuring of the Lough Foyle baseline.
The Analytical Society had initially been no more than an undergraduate provocation. During this period it had some more substantial achievements. In 1816 Babbage, Herschel and Peacock published a translation from French of the lectures of Sylvestre Lacroix, which was then the state-of-the-art calculus textbookReference to Lagrange in calculus terms marks out the application of what are now calledformal power series. British mathematicians had used them from about 1730 to 1760. As re-introduced, they were not simply applied as notations in differential calculus. They opened up the fields of functional equations (including the difference equationsfundamental to the difference engine) and operator (D-module) methods for differential equations. The analogy of difference and differential equations was notationally changing Δ to D, as a “finite” difference becomes “infinitesimal”. These symbolic directions became popular, as operational calculus, and pushed to the point of diminishing returns. The Cauchy concept of limit was kept at bay. Woodhouse had already founded this second “British Lagrangian School” with its treatment of Taylor series as formal.In this context function composition is complicated to express, because the chain rule is not simply applied to second and higher derivatives. This matter was known to Woodhouse by 1803, who took from Louis François Antoine Arbogast what is now called Faà di Bruno’s formula (a misnomer). In essence it was known to Abraham De Moivre (1697). Herschel found the method impressive, Babbage knew of it, and it was later noted by Lovelace as compatible with the analytical engine In the period to 1820 Babbage worked intensively on functional equations in general, and resisted both conventional finite differences and Arbogast’s approach (in which Δ and D were related by the simple additive case of the exponential map). But via Herschel he was influenced by Arbogast’s ideas in the matter of iteration, i.e. composing a function with itself, possibly many times. Writing in a major paper on functional equations in the Philosophical Transactions (1815/6)From 1828 to 1839 Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. Not a conventional resident don, and inattentive to teaching, he wrote three topical books during this period of his life. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of theAmerican Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1832Babbage was out of sympathy with colleagues: George Biddell Airy, his predecessor there, thought an issue should be made of his lack of interest in lecturing. Babbage planned to lecture in 1831 on political economy. Babbage’s reforming direction looked to see university education more inclusive, universities doing more for research, a broader syllabus and more interest in applications; butWilliam Whewell found the programme unacceptable. A controversy Babbage had with Richard Jones lasted for six years.He never did give a lecture. was during this period that Babbage tried to enter politics. Simon Schaffer writes that his views of the 1830s included disestablishment of the Church of England, a broader political franchise, and inclusion of manufacturers as stakeholders. He twice stood for Parliament as a candidate for the borough of Finsbury. In 1832 he came in third among five candidates, missing out by some 500 votes in the two-member constituency when two other reformist candidates, Thomas Wakley and Christopher Temple, split the vote. In his memoirs Babbage related how this election brought him the friendship of Samuel Rogers: his brother Henry Rogers wished to support Babbage again, but died within days
Babbage now emerged as a polemicist. One of his biographers notes that all his books contain a “campaigning element”. HisReflections on the Decline of Science and some of its Causes (1830) stands out, however, for its sharp attacks. It aimed to improve British science, and more particularly to oust Davies Gilbert as President of the Royal Society, which Babbage wished to reform.It was written out of pique, when Babbage hoped to become the junior secretary of the Royal Society, as Herschel was the senior, but failed because of his antagonism to Humphry Davy. Michael Faraday had a reply written, by Gerrit Moll, as On the Alleged Decline of Science in England .on the front of the Royal Society Babbage had no impact, with the bland election of the Duke of Sussex to succeed Gilbert the same year. As a broad manifesto, on the other hand, his Decline led promptly to the formation in 1831 of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS).The Mechanics’ Magazine in 1831 identified as Declinarians the followers of Babbage. In an unsympathetic tone it pointed out David Brewster writing in the Quarterly Review as another leader; with the barb that both Babbage and Brewster had received public money.ln the debate of the period on statistics (qua data collection) and what is now statistical inference, the BAAS in its Statistical Section (which owed something also to Whewell) opted for data collection. This Section was the sixth, established in 1833 with Babbage as chairman and John Elliot Drinkwater as secretary. The foundation of the Statistical Society followed. Babbage was its public face, backed by Richard Jones and Robert Malthus.
Babbage’s notation for machine parts, explanation from On a method of expressing by signs the action of machinery) of his “Mechanical Notation”, invented for his own use in understanding the work on the difference engine, and an influence on the conception of the analytical engine Babbage published On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, on the organisation of industrial production. It was an influential early work of operational research.John Rennie the Younger in addressing the Institute of Civil Engineers on manufacturing in 1846 mentioned mostly surveys in encyclopedias, and Babbage’s book was first an article in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana, the form in which Rennie noted it, in the company of related works by John Farey, Jr., Peter Barlow and Andrew Ure.From An essay on the general principles which regulate the application of machinery to manufactures and the mechanical arts, which became the Encyclopædia Metropolitana article of 1829, Babbage developed the schematic classification of machines that, combined with discussion of factories, made up the first part of the book. The second part considered the “domestic and political economy” of manufacturesThe book sold well, and quickly went to a fourth edition (1836).Babbage represented his work as largely a result of actual observations in factories, British and abroad. It was not, in its first edition, intended to address deeper questions of political economy; the second (late 1832) did, with three further chapters including one on piece rate. The book also contained ideas on rational design in factories, and profit sharing.
In Economy of Machinery was described what is now called the “Babbage principle”. It pointed out commercial advantages available with more careful division of labour. As Babbage himself noted, it had already appeared in the work of Melchiorre Gioia in 1815.The term was introduced in 1974 by Harry Braverman. Related formulations are the “principle of multiples” of Philip Sargant Florence, and the “balance of processes”What Babbage remarked is that skilled workers typically spend parts of their time performing tasks that are below their skill level. If the labour process can be divided among several workers, labour costs may be cut by assigning only high-skill tasks to high-cost workers, restricting other tasks to lower-paid workers He also pointed out that training or apprenticeship can be taken as fixed costs; but that returns to scale are available by his approach of standardisation of tasks, therefore again favouring the factory system His view of human capital was restricted to minimising the time period for recovery of training costs.Another aspect of the work was its detailed breakdown of the cost structure of book publishing. Babbage took the unpopular line, from the publishers’ perspective, of exposing the trade’s profitability. He went as far as to name the organisers of the trade’s restrictive practices. Twenty years later he attended a meeting hosted by John Chapman to campaign against the Booksellers Association, still a cartel
It has been written that “what Arthur Young was to agriculture, Charles Babbage was to the factory visit and machinery”.Babbage’s theories are said to have influenced the layout of the 1851 Great Exhibitionand his views had a strong effect on his contemporary George Julius Poulett Scrope.Karl Marx argued that the source of the productivity of the factory system was exactly the combination of the division of labour with machinery, building on Adam Smith, Babbage and Ure.Where Marx picked up on Babbage and disagreed with Smith was on the motivation for division of labour by the manufacturer: as Babbage did, he wrote that it was for the sake of profitability, rather than productivity, and identified an impact on the concept of a trade.John Ruskinwent further, to oppose completely what manufacturing in Babbage’s sense stood for Babbage also affected the economic thinking of John Stuart Mill.George Holyoake saw Babbage’s detailed discussion of profit sharing as substantive, in the tradition of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, if requiring the attentions of a benevolent captain of industry, and ignored at the time.The French engineer and writer on industrial organisation Léon Lalande was influenced by Babbage, but also the economist Claude Lucien Bergery, in reducing the issues to “technology”. William Jevons connected Babbage’s “economy of labour” with his own labour experiments of 1870.The Babbage principle is an inherent assumption in Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management.
In 1837, responding to the series of eight Bridgewater Treatises, Babbage published his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, under the titleOn the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation. In this work Babbage weighed in on the side ofuniformitarianism in a current debate. He preferred the conception of creation in which natural law dominated, removing the need for “contrivance” The book is a work of natural theology, and incorporates extracts from related correspondence of Herschel withCharles Lyell. It was quoted extensively in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.Babbage put forward the thesis that God had the omnipotence and foresight to create as a divine legislator. He could make laws which then produced species at the appropriate times, rather than continually interfering with ad hoc miracles each time a new species was required. In Vestiges the parallel with Babbage’s computing machines is made explicit, as allowing plausibility to the theory that transmutation of speciesThe British Association was consciously modelled on the Deutsche Naturforscher-Versammlung, founded in 1822. It rejected romantic science as well as metaphysics, and started to entrench the divisions of science from literature, and professionals from amateurs. Belonging as he did to the “Wattite” faction in the BAAS, represented in particular by James Watt the younger, Babbage identified closely with industrialists. He wanted to go faster in the same directions, and had little time for the more gentlemanly component of its membership. Indeed, he subscribed to a version of conjectural historythat placed industrial society as the culmination of human development (and shared this view with Herschel). A clash with Roderick Murchison led in 1838 to his withdrawal from further involvement.At the end of the same year he sent in his resignation as Lucasian professor, walking away also from the Cambridge struggle with Whewell. His interests became more focussed, on computation and metrology, and on international contacts
A project announced by Babbage was to tabulate all physical constants (referred to as “constants of nature”, a phrase in itself a neologism), and then to compile an encyclopedic work of numerical information. He was a pioneer in the field of “absolute measurement”.] His ideas followed on from those of Johann Christian Poggendorff, and were mentioned to Brewster in 1832. There were to be 19 categories of constants, and Ian Hacking sees these as reflecting in part Babbage’s “eccentric enthusiasms” Babbage’s paper On Tables of the Constants of Nature and Art was reprinted by the Smithsonian Institution in 1856, with an added note that the physical tables of Arnold Henry Guyot “will form a part of the important work proposed in this article”.Exact measurement was also key to the development of machine tools. Here again Babbage is considered a pioneer, with Henry Maudslay, William Sellers, and Joseph Whitworth
Through the Royal Society Babbage acquired the friendship of the engineer Marc Brunel. It was through Brunel that Babbage knew of Joseph Clement, and so came to encounter the artisans whom he observed in his work on manufactures Babbage provided an introduction for Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1830, for a contact with the proposed Bristol & Birmingham Railway. He carried out studies, around 1838, to show the superiority of the broad gauge for railways, used by Brunel’s Great Western Railway ln 1838, Babbage invented the pilot (also called a cow-catcher), the metal frame attached to the front of locomotives that clears the tracks of obstacles; he also constructed a dynamometer car. His eldest son, Benjamin Herschel Babbage, worked as an engineer for Brunel on the railways before emigrating to Australia in the 1850sBabbage also invented an ophthalmoscope, which he gave to Thomas Wharton Jones for testing. Jones, however, ignored it. The device only came into use after being independently invented by Hermann von Helmholtz.
Babbage achieved notable results in cryptography, though this was still not known a century after his death. Letter frequency was category 18 of Babbage’s tabulation project. Joseph Henry later defended interest in it, in the absence of the facts, as relevant to the management of movable type.During the Crimean War of the 1850s, Babbage broke Vigenère’s autokey cipher as well as the much weaker cipher that is calledVigenère cipher today. His discovery was kept a military secret, and was not published. Credit for the result was instead given toFriedrich Kasiski, a Prussian infantry officer, who made the same discovery some years later.Babbage did write to the Journal of the Society for Arts a short letter “Cypher Writing” which was printed on 7 December 1855 His priority wasn’t establishedBabbage lived and worked for over 40 years at 1 Dorset Street, Marylebone, where he died, at the age of 79, on 18 October 1871; he was buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. According to Horsley, Babbage died “of renal inadequacy, secondary to cystitis.” He had declined both a knighthood and baronetcy. He also argued against hereditary peerages, favoring life peeragesinstead .In 1983 the autopsy report for Charles Babbage was discovered and later published by his great-great-grandson A copy of the original is also available. Half of Babbage’s brain is preserved at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London The other half of Babbage’s brain is on display in the Science Museum, London.
Babbage’s machines were among the first mechanical computers. .Babbage directed the building of some steam-powered machines that achieved some modest success, suggesting that calculations could be mechanised. For more than ten years he received government funding for his project, which amounted to £17,000, but eventually the Treasury lost confidence in him While Babbage’s machines were mechanical and unwieldy, their basic architecture was similar to a modern computer. The data and program memory were separated, operation was instruction-based, the control unit could make conditional jumps, and the machine had a separate I/O unit.
In Babbage’s time, printed mathematical tables were calculated by hand. They were central to navigation, science and engineering, as well as mathematics. Mistakes were known to occur in transcription as well as calculation.At Cambridge, Babbage saw the fallibility of this process, and the opportunity of adding mechanisation into its manageIn 2011, researchers in Britain embarked on a multimillion-pound project, “Plan 28”, to construct Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Since Babbage’s plans were continually being refined and were never completed, they will engage the public in the project and crowd-source the analysis of what should be built. It would have the equivalent of 675 bytes of memory, and run at a clock speed of about 7 Hz. They hope to complete it by the 150th anniversary of Babbage’s death, in 2021.Advances in MEMs and nanotechnology have led to recent high-tech experiments in mechanical computation. The benefits suggested include operation in high radiation or high temperature environments. These modern versions of mechanical computation were highlighted in The Economist in its special “end of the millennium” black cover issue in an article entitled “Babbage’s Last Laugh”