The First Digital Computer

Two hundred years before Babbage there was movement towards computer technology. But even with the first invention of the digital computer, it could not be built. The world had to wait for another 100 years for it to become a reality.

Although Babbage is generally regarded as the inventor of the first digital computer, we have to go back another 200 years in history to see the first stirrings of computer technology.

A 17th century genius, 19 year old Blaise Pascal invented a mechanical calculator to help his Dad, who worked in the tax department of the local council. Blaise was a real whizz kid. He went on to invent the Syringe and

Hydraulic press and even had a hand in formulating the mathematical theory of probabilities, but that is another story.

Blaise’s calculator did not generate much interest at the time, and was soon forgotten.

Nothing much happened to keep the technology alive until 1833. In that year, Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada, Countess of Lovelace met Charles Babbage.

Forty-one year old Babbage was a mathematician and inventor. Lady Lovelace, at 18 years old, had money, a love of horse racing and a brilliant mind.

Mathematics was second nature to the lovely Ada, and she helped Charles Babbage develop his Analytical Engine.

This was the true beginning of the digital computer. The machine was designed to have a memory, read data from cards and perform arithmetical functions from a list of instructions.

Lady Lovelace, already employing her considerable mathematical talents along with those of her genius partner, for complex betting formula, could foresee the machine being used as an aid to her gambling.

She is regarded as the first computer programmer, and her partner Charles Babbage as the founder of the first digital computer.

Computer technology had taken a giant leap forward with the design of the Analytical Engine, but there was nowhere to land. Manufacturing skills at the time were not up to building the machine, and more to the point, even with Ada’s money there were insufficient funds available.

The plans were put away and remained hidden for over 100 years.

It wasn’t until 1958 when Jack Kilby fused a transistor, 3 resistors and a capacitor on to a substrate the size of a one-cent coin that the computer as we know it today took off.

In 1982, Jack, St Clair Kilby was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Washington, alongside Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and other great innovators.

John Hughes
08.01.10

Thanks Paul, for a truly fascinating insight into the beginnings of the machine I’m sitting writing this on – I’d no idea it all began ‘way back in the 17th century!

Strange to think that while we take our modern technology very much for granted, there were geniuses in the ancient world dreaming up amazing devices and inventions which they’d never see in their own lifetime, and that the people we credit for the discoveries were actually inspired by people born centuries before them.

Shannon Smith
08.01.10

Who would of thought Gambling and Calculators would of brought together such an amazing machine. Great story, Well Done!

comments powered by Disqus
Loading