Around 100 years ago something really exciting was happening.
An age old question, “what is the limit of knowledge?”, collided with a modern mathematical one, “can knowledge be mechanized?”. This gave birth to a new field: Computer Science.
The science of computation.
The dream of mechanizing human knowledge was inspired by developments over 300 years ago during the early stages of the industrial revolution. Factories were being developed as industrialists began to explore mass production and the mechanization of labour. Gradually, machines were designed to replicate human action. But, replicating human mental processes remained the stuff of dreams. This began to change with the development of machines that could add, multiply…and eventually make decisions… At first even the most advanced machines were limited to one specific task. If you needed something else done, you had to build a new machine. However, around 200 years ago a great industrialist thinker, Charles Babbage, was dreaming of a general symbolic machine. One that answer complex questions, by breaking them down into smaller questions of logic and arithmetic, and braiding them together. His dream was never realized, but his driving question remained: Was it possible to build a general machine that could answer any question? By the 1900’s mathematicians and philosophers were posing this question in different ways. Mathematicians asked: What are mechanical machines capable of? How powerful could they be? Philosophers asked: What are the limitations of mechanical machines? What will machines never be able to do?
Image Credit: Mirko Tobias Schaefer