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Glowing Eggs

There are many advances in science and technology where the innovators involved are way ahead of their time. The technology just wasn't there to support their futuristic ideas or the time just wasn't right. Later they were proved to be correct, here we celebrate how, one way or another, Computer Science has brought their ideas to life!

Da Vinci coded

Life Lesson: Even Leonardo's ideas didn't always get off the ground straight away!

One of the most famous examples is Leonardo Da Vinci, the renaissance scientist, engineer and artist. His drawings show that he thought up many completely novel inventions for his time. He is credited for inventing things like the Helicopter, tank, solar power, robots and the calculator. Many of his inventions have since been made once modern materials and tools were available. Computer simulations also showed the leavers and strings in his robot Knight worked perfectly.

Muslim programs

A Mosque and moon
Life Lesson: Always have a plan and stick to it!

Back in the 9th century in Baghdad the Persian Muslim scholar Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi wrote a book "On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals". It was responsible for the subsequent widespread use of the Hindu-arabic number system we use today. He also developed rules for doing arithmetic using this system. The word algorithm, derived from his name, started to be used to refer to such rules that could be followed to achieve a calculation. Once computers were eventually invented in the 20th century this whole idea of algorithms suddenly became crucial as that is really all a computer program is: a set of instructions that if followed precisely in the given order lead to some task being achieved...but now when followed by a computer rather than by a mathematician.

Wh@ a history!

Life Lesson: unexpected things can happen when your monk cuts corners

The @ symbol of your email address first appeared in the Middle Ages. Monks would translate and copy books, but there were often problems when the bookbinders put the pages together in the wrong order. To get round this the monks repeated the last line of each page on the top of the next. This was very laborious so they came up with quick abbreviations even for small but common words like "ad". It is Latin for "at", and the medieval monks sometimes wrote 'd' like a mirrored '6'. The @ symbol was born. Morse code was updated in 2004 with a special code for @ so that people could send email addresses by Morse code!

Feet of Clay

Life Lesson: Gollum isn't just a pretty face, my precious.

In the Middle Ages, new life was given to the golem of Jewish folklore: a creature made of clay that would blindly do as its creator ordered. Once a tablet inscribed with appropriate words was placed under its tongue it would come to life and act as a servant, blindly following the instructions exactly as given. Household robots, precisely following their programs, seem to be about to fulfil this dream at last for the vacuuming ... or is it nightmare? The creator's of Golems of legend often came to a sticky end, though the most famous defended the ghetto of Prague from attacks, so maybe modern "defence" robots are the true inheritors of the Golem legend.

Grumpy old men can make a difference

Life Lesson: Success takes personality too!

In the 1800s "computers" were teams of people employed to calculate tables of numbers used for example when navigating. Charles Babbage changed that inventing the first programmable computer, called "The Difference Engine" to take over and so eradicate human error from the table. Unfortunately he struggled to get the funding for his ideas not least because of his confrontational personality and he never built it. The world had to wait a century longer for a functioning computer. In 1991 a version was finally built directly from his plans - and worked perfectly.

The pen, the paper and the poet's daughter

Life Lesson: You don't need a famous poet dad or a computer to teach yourself to program.

Babbage's computers needed programs and for that he needed a woman: Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Byron and an accomplished Mathematician. Even though the Difference Engine did not exist she wrote programs for it, and even tested them on paper to make sure they did work even though she couldn't run them on the machine. The same technique is still used today by programmers to help get rid of bugs in their code at an early stage.

Small but perfectly formed

Life Lesson: There is plenty of room for computers at the bottom, top, sides, edges...

In 1960, Richard Feynman, Nobel prize winning physicist, arguing that we were a long way off the fundamental limit of how small machines could get (after all biological "machines" like cells manage at molecular scales) challenged scientists and engineers to make nano-machines. This helped trigger a whole new area of computer science and is starting to achieve results: with nano-engines and messages written in atoms that can be read only with electron microscopes. Computers the size of specks of dust are not far away, they will be everywhere, but how will we use and program them?

Computer say 'No!'

Couple Chatting
Life Lesson: Chatting is far harder than you think, just ask any computer.

In 1990, entrepreneur Hugh Loebner offered a prize for the first piece of software to pass a variation of a test first suggested by Alan Turing in 1950 as a way to see if artificial "intelligence" had been achieved. To pass the test and so win the prize the winning chatbot program must convince a panel of experts that they are conversing with a human not a chatbot. So far Artificial Intelligence eludes us and the prize is unclaimed: at this year's competition Loebner claimed "At this rate, I will be dead before the Turing test is passed".