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    Home : Math Matters - A Brief Look at How Mathematics has Influenced Modern Life : Computers
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Computers

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George Boole (English, 1815-1864) invented Boolean algebra, the mathematical foundation of the logic used by the digital computer. In particular, computers use the special case of Boolean logic where entities can have only two values (e.g. 1 or 0, the binary system) and a set of clear rules defines their operations.

“If X is true and Y is false, or X is true and W is true, then Z is true” is a typical decision that computer programs make. In Boolean mathematical form, this decision would look like:













Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (English, 1815-1852) was the world’s first computer programmer. She wrote a brilliantly detailed account of the functioning and potential of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her work became a foundation for modern concepts of computer programming. The programming language Ada honors her work.

Alan Turing (British, 1912-1954) is often considered the father of modern computing. He developed seminal concepts for the design and function of modern computers. The Turing Test was his proposal for assessing the true intelligence of computers.
Computers Doing Math

The idea of a machine to do mathematical calculations is not modern at all. Pascal, Leibniz, and Babbage are well-known for their attempts at automating calculations long before Microsoft®, Apple®, or Intel®.
Blaise Pascal’s machine (1652) could add or subtract numbers. His most advanced models could work with numbers up to 9,999,999.
Co-father of calculus Gottfried Leibniz also designed a machine (1671) that could perform addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Charles Babbage designed Difference and Analytical Engines capable of more advanced calculations. They also featured programming through hole-punched sheets.

Today, a modest machine with the right software can crunch through math that would have taken a hundred Gausses a hundred years to do. Spreadsheets help business people use math to make business decisions. Advanced software like Maple replicates the mathematical thinking that is needed to build a spacecraft or cure a disease.