It Began with Babbage: The Genesis of Computer Science

Overview


As a field, computer science occupies a unique scientific space, in that its subject matter can exist in both physical and abstract realms. An artifact such as software is both tangible and not, and must be classified as something in between, or "liminal." The study and production of liminal artifacts allows for creative possibilities that are, and have been, possible only in computer science.

In It Began with Babbage, computer scientist and writer Subrata Dasgupta examines the...

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It Began with Babbage: The Genesis of Computer Science

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Overview


As a field, computer science occupies a unique scientific space, in that its subject matter can exist in both physical and abstract realms. An artifact such as software is both tangible and not, and must be classified as something in between, or "liminal." The study and production of liminal artifacts allows for creative possibilities that are, and have been, possible only in computer science.

In It Began with Babbage, computer scientist and writer Subrata Dasgupta examines the distinct history of computer science in terms of its creative innovations, reaching back to Charles Babbage in 1819. Since all artifacts of computer science are conceived with a use in mind, the computer scientist is not concerned with the natural laws that govern disciplines like physics or chemistry; instead, the field is more concerned with the concept of purpose. This requirement lends itself to a type of creative thinking that, as Dasgupta shows us, has exhibited itself throughout the history of computer science. More than any other, computer science is the science of the artificial, and has a unique history to accompany its unique focus.

The book traces a path from Babbage's Difference Engine in the early 19th century to the end of the 1960s by when a new academic discipline named "computer science" had come into being. Along the way we meet characters like Babbage and Ada Lovelace, Turing and von Neumann, Shannon and Chomsky, and a host of other people from a variety of backgrounds who collectively created this new science of the artificial. And in the end, we see how and why computer science acquired a nature and history all of its own.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is a fascinating reflection on a new academic discipline. It is an intellectual and cultural story woven round the history of automatic computation from 1819 to 1969. Center-stage is the stored-program paradigm, which emerged between 1945 and 1949. The theoretical abstractions created by Alan Turing in 1936 may have shaped the paradigm but Computer Science did not come into its own until after Turing's death, with the gradual accretion of sub-paradigms such as finite automata, systems architecture, declarative programming and artificial intelligence. Taking an even-handed view of developments on either side of the Atlantic, this book is a valuable counterpoint to shallower histories of the subject." -- Simon Lavington, Emeritus Professor, University of Essex

"It Began with Babbage provides a wealth of background on the early history of computing - its people, ideas and systems - too much of which I should have known but didn't, or had somewhat askew. It both explores the relationships that drove this history and explains in an admirably accessible style the key ideas that enabled it." -- Paul Rosenbloom, author of On Computing; Professor, Department of Computer Science and Institute for Creative Technologies, University of Southern California

"Dasgupta provides a comprehensive, enlightening history of the emergence of computer science as a new scientific paradigm... Highly recommended." --Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199309412
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/5/2014
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 769,477
  • Product dimensions: 10.30 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Subrata Dasgupta is a scholar, teacher, and author. He holds the Computer Science Trust Fund Eminent Scholar Chair in the School of Computing & Informatics, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he also teaches in the Department of History. For the past thirty years he has studied and written on the historical and cognitive nature of creativity in various fields including computer science, design theory, cultural and intellectual movements, science, technology, and art. He is the author of thirteen previous books, including Technology and Creativity and Jagadis Chandra Bose and the Indian Response to Western Science, both published by Oxford University Press, and a childhood memoir, Salaam Stanley Matthews.

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Table of Contents

Prologue
1. Leibniz's Theme, Babbage's Dream
2. Weaving Algebraic Patterns
3. Missing Links
4. Entscheidungsproblem : What's in a Word?
5. Towards a Holy Grail
6. Intermezzo
7. A Tangled Web of Inventions
8. A Paradigm is Born
9. A Liminal Artifact of an Uncommon Nature
10. Glimpses of a Scientific Style
11. I Compute, Therefore I Am
12. 'The Best Way to Design EL'
13. Language Games
14. Going Heuristic
15. An Explosion of Subparadigms
16. Aesthetica
Epilogue
Dramatis personae
Bibliography

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