Quotation for the week: Babbage

Hopefully, a sequence of vaguely maths-related quotations will become a regular feature of the blog. In any case, the following offering from Charles Babbage — mathematician, anti-busking campaigner and designer of the infamous proto-computer called the Difference Engine — is too good not to share:

On two occasions I have been asked, — “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” In one case a member of the Upper, and in the other a member of the Lower, House put this question. I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Charles Babbage (1864), Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, chapter 5.

It seems that the principle of “garbage in, garbage out” — not to mention the difficulty of getting some people to understand it — is as old as computing itself…


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