If it wasn't for the fateful day, 26 December 1791, mankind would have probably never seen the invention of the computer as soon as it did. Charles Babbage, fought it out to stay alive when he was attacked by a series of violent fevers at the age of ten, because of which he was sent to Devonshire to a school which was to take care of his health without impressing too much of knowledge onto him. 1827 was a year of mixed fortunes for Babbage, as on one hand he lost his father, his wife and two of his children, but was employed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge on the other, a position he assumed for the next 12 years. It wasn't difficult to notice that his obsession with developing a mechanical computer overshadowed his interest of actually teaching his students.
He went on to publish two books, in the year 1830 and 1834 titled 'Reflections on the Decline of Science in England' and 'On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures' respectively, the former being the stimulating factor for the founding of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The year 1834 saw the sketches of the analytic engine of the computer, inspired by his work on the difference engine. He identified the five logical components of a computer as the store, the mill, the control, the input and the output.
Coming to his interest in cryptography, he is known to have once said "Deciphering is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating of arts, and I fear I have wasted upon it more time than it deserves". The first ever written documentation of the conquering of the Vigenere cipher was by Friedrich Kasiski, even though rumor had it that Charles Babbage had arrived at a similar strategy years earlier.
The systematicc approach made by him to achieve this, involved focusing on the length of the key (say 'l') and substituting every l'th character in the cryptic text with a particular key. From a psychological point of view, he countered that every cipher was designed by its maker with a conviction that it could not be broken, and this conviction was directly proportional to the intelligence of the maker. He explained this law to his friend Dr.Fitton, who constructed a cipher, which he was conquered. This cipher consisted of two concentric circles, the outer one lined with the 26 alphabets of the English language in order, and the inner one lined with the alphabets in an erroneous manner.
His literary work "Economy of Machines and Manufactures" (1832), discussed his viewpoints on the technical aspects of the industrial revolution. He was endowed with the Gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society for his contributions to the invention of the computer.
- Charles Babbage by J O'Connor and E F Robertson
- Charles Babbage, Mathematician, philosopher and (proto-) computer scientist who originated the idea of a programmable computer.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:CharlesBabbage.jpg, public domain image