Thursday, December 04, 2014

In Praise Of Boolean Strings

George Boole of Boolean fame
We would not have computers if not for a self-educated man of humble origins, who made good while living in Ireland.

The year 2015 will mark the 200th birthday of George Boole, whose name is memorialized in the computer-speak term "Boolean".Mr. Boole never attended university, and his mathematical education was largely of his own making. Perhaps it was because of the times in which he lived. There were far fewer distractions in the early Nineteenth Century, no video games to keep a lad from his studies.

There wasn't much schooling for the son of a shoemaker, either. What Mr. Boole had were books, and he used them.

He went on to become the first mathematics professor at Queen's College, Cork, where he continued his pursuit of demonstrating that human thought could be defined in numerical terms. In other words, we think in logical ways that can be calculated with numbers. Today, his ideas are incorporated in the machines that do much of our thinking, but without George Boole, the electronic engineers would not be creating the circuitry that does such thinking and relies on maths to operate.

In Boole's philosophy, it is either yes or no. On or off. 0 or 1. Just like a computer circuit, it is open or closed. And all that open or closed-ness is what makes the machine work.

University College Cork is planning a series of events to commemorate the big day in November. Professor Desmond MacHale's biography of George Boole is again available. It is told from a mathematician's point of view, a not unexpected outlook as Mr. MacHale is himself a mathematics professor at UCC. The Life And Work Of George Boole will give you some insight into how a child prodigy turned himself into a respected university teacher who changed the world of the future while linking algebra with logic.

If you'd like more information on the year of Boole, UCC has set up a website where you can learn about the man who helped give rise to that smartphone in your hand, long before anyone had invented a telephone at all.

No comments: