Working my way through one of the more fascinating technology books I’ve ever come across, Code by Charles Petzold. I stumbled across this passage:
…nobody in the nineteenth century made the connection between the ANDs and ORs of Boolean algebra and the wiring of simple switches in series and in parallel. No mathematician, no electrician, no telegraph operator, nobody. Not even that icon of the computer revolution Charles Babbage (1792–1871), who had corresponded with Boole and knew his work, and who struggled for much of his life designing first a Difference Engine and then an Analytical Engine that a century later would be regarded as the precursors to modern computers…
This is from a chapter on Boolean logic (aka Boolean algebra), which you might have come across if you have ever studied programming, statistics or electrical engineering.
I’ve never before had it explained to me in such a cogent fashion. But what this sections highlights in particular (and the book as a whole rams home) is the power of bringing together seemingly disconnected ideas, theories and fields.
…What might have helped Babbage, we know now, was the realization that perhaps instead of gears and levers to perform calculations, a computer might better be built out of telegraph relays…
This is a great book if you want to understand how computers work, as it combines engineering and information theory to construct a virtual computer, step by step. Starting with a simple light bulb circuit, through logic gates, operating systems and graphical interfaces.
But it is arguably more valuable in demonstrating how something as complex as a computer draws from many fields.