First Computer + Ada, World’s First Programer
January 21, 1888: First Computer Passes Test
The Victorian age saw machines doing human tasks, especially with steam power coming into vogue. Charles Babbage asked himself, if machines could do human physical tasks, why not mental tasks?
Nearly a half-century before electronic computers are built, Charles Babbage designed a programmable mechanical computer. On this day a portion of that design was constructed and shown to work as expected. In 2009 a working version of the full design was completed.
Charles Babbage (Dec 26, 1791 – Oct 18, 1871) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer best known for originating the concept of a programmable computer, considered the “father of the computer”.
Ada Lovelace reported in her notes on the Analytical Engine: “Mr. Babbage believes he can, by his engine, form the product of two numbers, each containing twenty figures, in three minutes”.
Ada was the child of poet Lord Byron and because her mother did not want her to turn into a poet, being deserted by Lord Byron, steered her towards math. As a mathematician and writer she worked with Babbage creating algorithms from her notes on Babbage’s computer. She is recognized as the world’s first programmer.
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.
A major innovation was that the Analytical Engine could be programed using punch cards. The machine was also intended to employ several features subsequently used in modern computers, including sequential control, branching and looping. It would have been the first mechanical device to be, in principle, Turing-complete.
It hasn’t happened very often in history that such a long interval separated the invention of a device and its realization in modern hardware. Looking from the advantage of a century and a half hindsight, Babbage anticipated virtually every aspect of present day computers.