Who is George Boole: the mathematician behind the Google doodle


Who is George Boole


George Boole, a British mathematician, logician and philosopher whose work served as the basis for modern computer science, is being celebrated with a Google Doodle on what would have been his 200th birthday.

Boole, who was born November 2, 1815, in Lincoln, England, and died December 8, 1864, in County Cork, Ireland, is best known as the author of The Laws of Thought and inventor of Boolean algebra.

“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,” GeorgeBoole.com, a University College Cork website dedicated to him, says. “Boole laid the foundations of the information age. His pivotal advances in mathematics, logic and probability provided the essential groundwork for modern mathematics, microelectronic engineering and computer science.”

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“His pivotal advances in mathematics, logic and probability provided the essential groundwork for modern mathematics, microelectronic engineering and computer science.”

Born 200 years ago on November 2, his algebraic approach to logic, in which all values are reduced to either “true” or “false”, is still used today.

He also devised a type of linguistic algebra, now known as Boolean algebra, the three most basic operations of which are “and”, “or” and “not”.

The “XOR” gate that activates the first “o” is known as an “Exclusive OR” gate, meaning it only turns on when one and only one of x or y are true.

Nowadays, this logic underpins all digital devices, existing in almost every line of computer code, and has transformed the way we live our lives.

For example, searching Google for two words, say “David Cameron”, includes an “AND” function, meaning both the values “David” and “Cameron” need to show up in search results.

Boole, who lived much of his life as a professor at University College Cork in Ireland, 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, and advocating machinery as a way to replace human drudgery.

In layman’s terms, his theory of logic is premised on predicting what happens for each of these binary states.

A largely self-taught child prodigy, Boole never attended university and was forced to leave school at 16 years old after his father’s shoe business collapsed. He became an assistant teacher the same year and opened his own school when he was 20.

He was just 24 when he published his first paper, Researches on the Theory of Analytical Transformations in the Cambridge Mathematical Journal.

Six years later, in 1847, he published his first book The Mathematical Analysis of Logic, where he introduced the concept of “symbolic logic” where mathematical symbols are used to represent classes or sets of objects, and the symbols are manipulated through mathematics.

In 1849, he was appointed the first professor of mathematics at Queen’s College, Cork (now University College Cork (UCC)) in Ireland.

Boole’s landmark book The Laws of Thought appeared in 1854, laying out rules of logic and their application to probability and was followed by books on differential equations and the calculus of finite differences.  Sadly, in late 1864, George Boole was struck down by pneumonia at the age of 49.  He’d walked to the college in heavy rain a fortnight earlier, and the wet sheet treatment allegedly meted out by his wife, a big fan of homeopathy, probably didn’t help.