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Charles Babbage was an English mathematician and inventor who is widely credited for coming up with the concept of a programmed computer. Babbage was born in 1791, a time when computer actually meant a person who computes manually.
Educated as a mathematician, Babbage noticed - as have many others since - that larger operations could be broken down into simpler, smaller stages. However, whether it was a small calculation or a large one, human error would always be a risk.
Babbage envisioned a machine with an input device, storage, a processor, a control unit and an output device, essentially a basic modern computer. This machine would be able to handle the basic calculations, thus eliminating human error. Although never completed, Babbage's Analytical Engine would have run on punch cards containing programs that could be run in a loop, allowing it to carry out any calculations that the programmer could design for it.
Babbage also did work in the field of cryptography, breaking Vigenere's autokey cipher.
Babbage's conceptual Analytical Engine was an amazing leap in thought at the time, but one that has been made again and again since. The idea of making computation a mechanical process also occurred to Alan Turing. A big difference between Babbage and Turing is that Turing was born in an age when his concepts could be realized, thanks to, among other things, electricity.
Babbage's Analytical Engine and the earlier and later versions of his Difference Engines were entirely mechanical, using cylinders and other parts that would have resulted in a machine over 8 feet tall and 15 tons. Despite having never built the first working computer, Babbage's conceptual machine allowed his friend Ada Lovelace to gain posthumous acclaim as the world's first computer programmer for creating algorithms that were meant to run on Babbage's machine.