When did computers begin? When you look more closely at the question it dissolves into dust, almost literally, because people calculated with pebbles in the dust millennia ago. When you look at the origins of modern computers people will more likely refer to Alan Turing or John von Neumann or Konrad Zuse. All of these lived in the 20th century.
Yet many of the ideas that gave rise to modern computing are much older. Algorithms, which are so essential for modern computing, and even managing traffic lights, take their name from the ninth-century Mohammed Ibn Musa al-Khwârizmî from Khwarezm in the former Soviet Union. (The word “algorithm” is derived from Latin word Algorithmus, from his name).
It was from his work that the West learnt of the very familiar numerals 1,2,3 … that are now called Arabic, or more precisely, Hindu-Arabic numerals. More importantly we learnt from him the algorithms for how to use those, then newfangled, numerals.
Some people regard al- Khwârizmî as the first computer scientist. Though that title is anachronistic, it makes some sense. In Catalonia, and elsewhere, Ramon Llull (c.1232–c.1315) is regarded as the father of computer science and the first computer scientist.
Again this is anachronistic. Nevertheless one can trace the influence of Llull’s ideas through Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) and others to the modern discipline.
I find Llull’s work fascinating for the insights it gives into how we (slowly) develop sophisticated ideas and systems.
Llull made a number of contributions to what we now call computer science. Among these, the idea of, and construction of, a formal language is probably the most important. On the other hand his machine has had more notoriety.
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