George Boole – The father of NOT AND OR

George BooleGeorge Boole (Image: wikipedia.org)

Boole is a pivotal figure who can be described as the ‘father of the information age’. His invention of Boolean algebra and symbolic logic pioneered a new mathematics. His legacy surrounds us everywhere, in the computers, information storage and retrieval, electronic circuits and controls that support life, learning and communications in the 21st century. 

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Every mathematician and computer technologist knows that the AND and OR are not  just conjunctions, but those were George Boole’s contributions (along with the not!) to the algebra of logic which were viewed as immensely important and influential in solving logical problems.

George Boole was a British mathematician and a philosopher, who saw logics as principally a discipline of mathematics, rather than as philosophy. His exceptional mathematical skills paved way to modern computer science. He believed AND, OR and NOT as the only necessary operations to perform comparisons of set of things, as well as basic mathematical functions; this enabled him to encode logical arguments into a language that could be manipulated and solved mathematically. Thus, he came up with a type of linguistic algebra, now known as Boolean algebra. Today on his bicentennial birthday, here are some interesting facts about George Boole

His extraordinary mathematical talents did not manifest themselves in early life. He received his early lessons in mathematics from his father, a tradesman with an amateur interest in in mathematics and logic, but his favourite subject at school was classics.

He had little but formal education and was mostly self taught in mathematics, he used to borrow mathematics journals from his local mechanics institute. Given his intelligence, he started teaching classes in a school at the age of 16, and even established his own school at the age of 19.

By the age of 34, though, he was well respected enough in his field to be appointed as the first professor of mathematics of Queen’s College (now University College) in Cork, Ireland.

He also developed a novel approach based on a binary system, processing only two objects (“yes-no”, “true-false”, “on-off”, “zero-one”

Despite the standing he had won in the academic community by that time, Boole’s revolutionary ideas were largely criticized or just ignored. Seventy years later, Claude Shannon made a major breakthrough in realizing that Boole’s work could form the basis of mechanisms and processes in the real world, and particularly that electromechanical relay circuits could be used to solve Boolean algebra problems.

Boole was also an early thinker on the theory of artificial intelligence, believing that all human thought could be reduced to a series of mathematical rules.

An interesting theory is that, Boole was the inspiration for Professor James Moriarty, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, says Boole’s biographer, “Moriarty was a professor at a small provincial university. He was a mathematician,” MacHale told Evoke.ie.“If you look at the mathematical papers that Moriarty wrote, they can be linked almost directly with half a dozen of the papers that George Boole wrote.”

Boole is regarded in hindsight as a founder of the field of computer science, and his work led to the development of applications he could never have imagined.

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