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Learn about the grandfather of computer science

Learn about the grandfather of computer science

Jill Rees*

Most people simply use what the world has to offer without any interest or curiosity about its origins, which is quite normal. Only a few writers and curious people like me are interested in researching the origins of things. Going to the supermarket or grocery stores is part of the normal behavior of buying food without being curious about where the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, beans, rice and meat come from. To make matters worse, they believe that agricultural pesticides are toxic and that fossil fuels are destroying the planet. No one told them that pesticides and fossil fuels were responsible for civilization as they knew it and fueled population growth from 2 billion to 8 billion people in less than 200 years.

They have acquired the Internet, social media, computing, smartphones and other tools of today’s life without any idea of ​​their origins. On May 13, 2024, THE CONVERSATION published a report entitled “What is it, what is its purpose, and who is the Persian inventor of algorithms?” The text signed by Debbie Passey tells how algorithms came to be:

“Algorithms have become an integral part of our lives. From social media apps to Netflix, algorithms learn your preferences and prioritize the content you are shown. Google Maps and AI are nothing without algorithms. We have all heard of them, but what is the origin of the word” Algorithm.” More than 1,000 years before the advent of Internet applications and smartphones, the Persian scientist and polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi invented the concept of algorithms.

In fact, the word itself comes from the Latin version of its name, “algorithmi.” As you might guess, it is also related to algebra. Al-Khwarizmi lived from 780 to 850 AD, during the Islamic Golden Age. He is considered the “father of algebra” and, for some, the “grandfather of computer science.” However, few details are known about his life. Many of his original works in Arabic have been lost over time. Al-Khwarizmi is believed to have been born in the Khiva region, south of the Aral Sea, in present-day Uzbekistan. He lived during the Abbasid Caliphate, which was a period of remarkable scientific progress in the Islamic Empire.

Al-Khwarizmi made important contributions to mathematics, geography, astronomy, and trigonometry. To help provide a more accurate map of the world, he corrected Ptolemy’s classic cartographic book, Geography. He produced calculations to track the movement of the sun, moon, and planets. He also wrote about trigonometric functions and produced the first table of tangents. There are no photographs of Al-Khwarizmi’s appearance, but in 1983 the Soviet Union issued a commemorative stamp marking his 1,200th birthday.

Al-Khwarizmi was a scholar of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. In this think tank, scholars have translated knowledge from around the world into Arabic, and synthesized it to achieve major advances in a range of disciplines. This included mathematics, a field closely associated with Islam. Al-Khwarizmi was an encyclopedic and religious man. His scientific writings began with dedications to God and His Messenger Muhammad. One of the major projects undertaken by Islamic mathematicians at the House of Wisdom was the development of algebra.

Around 830 AD, Caliph Al-Ma’mun encouraged Al-Khwarizmi to write a treatise on algebra, Al-Jabr (or the Short Book on Arithmetic by Completion and Balancing). This became his most important work. By then, algebra had been around for hundreds of years, but Al-Khwarizmi was the first to write a specific book about it. His work is designed to be a practical teaching tool. Its Latin translation was the basis of algebra textbooks in European universities until the sixteenth century.

The first part presented the concepts and rules of algebra and methods for calculating the volumes and areas of shapes. In the second part, he presented real-life problems and presented solutions to them, such as issues of inheritance, land division, and trade accounts. Al-Khwarizmi did not use modern mathematical notation with numbers and symbols. Instead, he wrote simple prose and used geometric diagrams: four roots equal twenty, then one root equals five, and the square that makes it is twenty-five.

In modern notation, we write this as: 4x = 20, x = 5, x2 = 25

Find computer science. Al-Khwarizmi’s mathematical writings introduced Indo-Arabic numerals to Western mathematicians. These are the ten symbols we all use today: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0. Hindu-Arabic numerals are important to the history of computing because they use the digit zero and a single base decimal system. It is important to emphasize that this is a numerical system supported by modern computing technology.

Al-Khwarizmi’s art of calculating mathematical problems laid the foundation for the concept of algorithms. He provided the first detailed explanation of the use of decimal notation to perform the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and to calculate fractions. This was a more efficient method of calculation than using an abacus. To solve a mathematical equation, Al-Khwarizmi would systematically go through a series of steps to find the answer. This is the basic concept of the algorithm.

Algorithm, a medieval Latin term named after Al-Khwarizmi, refers to the rules for performing mathematical operations using the Hindu-Arabic number system. Al-Khwarizmi’s book on Indian numerals was translated into Latin and was entitled The Endorum Number Algorithm. In the early twentieth century, the word “algorithm” reached its current definition and use: “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem in a finite number of steps.” Step-by-step procedure to solve the problem.

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi played a central role in the development of mathematics and computer science as we know it today. Next time you use any digital technology, from your social media feed to your online banking account to your Spotify app, remember that none of this would have been possible without the pioneering work of the ancient Persian scholar.

Debbie Passey presents to us in a simple and colloquial way the story of the achievements in mathematics and algebra of the Persian polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi and his enormous contribution to current science. Despite what everyone may think, the knowledge we use today did not originate in the so-called Western world – despite its status, its origins go back to the Middle East and Asia. European scholars absorbed and developed existing knowledge that was imported. Wow, gentlemen, everything from noodles and wheelbarrows to printing and paper are Chinese inventions, but that’s another story I’ll tell you soon.

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“Human development necessarily proceeds through the search for knowledge.” – Sun Tzu

* Agribusiness consultant

**This text does not necessarily express the opinion of AGROemDIA