The Computer’s Grandmother (Part 1)

Not so many people know that the history of Computer Science began in Turin, exactly 150 years ago.   

Not so many people know that the history of Computer Science began in Turin: in 1840, Charles Babbage, today considered the first computer scientist in history, arrived in Turin to show to the Italian scientists his ambitious project. It was the end of 1840 and in the Academy of the Sciences of Turin was taking place the Second Convention of the Scientists or, as they said at the time, of the "Italian philosophers". From England came also the mathematician Charles Babbage, who today is considered the first computer scientist in history. He was accompanied by a piedmontese friend, Fortunato Prandi, who lived in exile in London and had been sentenced to death because he had joined the liberal uprisings of 1821.   

Thanks to his friendship with Babbage he had received a special safe-conduct which allowed him to come back in his homeland for a short period of time.

Later Prandi would be pardoned and would become one of the Reign's most active entrepreneurs. Babbage did, during his first years of scientific activity, a perfect technical work which hade made him Math professor at Cambridge University. He left theory to fully concentrate himself on the study and theory of the first ever calculator. He would come to Turin to present his work to the world scientific community, for the first time. He also would bring a huge trunk containing drawings and the model of some parts of his Analytical Engine. Most of the events described in this article are based on Charles Babbage's biography, "Passages from the Life of a Philosopher", written in 1862.

On the volume’s frontispiece, the author mentions his honour of Knight Commander of the Italian San Maurizio and San Lazzaro rank. On the first page there is the volume’s dedication to Vittorio Emanuele II, which deserves to be translated because it can be interpreted as the birth of the new science.

“Sire, by dedicating this volume to Your Majesty I do a justice deed to the memory of Your illustrious Father. In 1840 king Carlo Alberto invited the wisemen of Italy to gather in his capital. Upon invitation of his most famous mathematician, I brought with me the sketches and the explanations of the Analytic Engine. They were widely discussed and they were considered as valid by the most important sons of Italy. To the king, your father, I owe the first public and official recognition of this invention. I'm happy to express my gratitude to Her son, king of the united Italy, the country of Archimede and Galileo".

The mathematician who had invited Babbage in Italy was Giovanni Piana, engineer, soldier and respected member of the Academy of the Sciences of Turin. He was also the director of the Astronomical Observatory of Palazzo Madama and today is still known for a treatise of three volumes about the movement of the moon. As all the astronomers of those period, he was probably tormented by the problem of the calculus of the orbits of celestian bodies. Maybe was the wish of doing better this calculus spending less effort that persuaded Piana to invite Babbage to Turin. His fantastic mathematic machine was already famous, even though there weren't any scientific articles dedicated to it.

Edit by Silvia Burgio, Virginia Cerrato, Matteo Papallo, Sebastiano Zanellato

Liceo Gioberti (Torino)

Progetto di Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro anno 2016-2017