What Contributions Did Pascal Have to the History of Computers?


Blaise Pascal's name lives on as a programming language but the French philosopher was a multi-talented scientist and thinker who began the science of combining science and engineering to create mechanical tools for calculation. Pascal's first prototypes were also proto-computers but his contributions to computing also came from his study of math and probability.

Pascal's Calculator

  • Bascal was trying to assist his father in figuring out French provincial tax revenues when he invented the mechanical calculator in 1642. Pascal's calculator, also called the Pascaline, was the first machine to be able to add, subtract, multiple and divide. Pascal built 50 prototypes and then built 20 finished devices. Inventors followed the designs of Pascal's machine to continue to improve on the idea of a mechanical calculator through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Binomial Coefficients in Programming

  • Pascal's innovation in mathematics was the discovery of binomial coefficients through the development of Pascal's Pyramid, which shows the relationship between families of numbers. Because of this discovery's importance to algebra, it has also forced the creation of special functions in programming languages to find precise calculations. lnΓ(n) is a special function standard in some programming languages and stands for binomial coefficients.

Studies in Probability

  • Pascal and Pierre de Fermat undertook the understanding of probability, gambling and game theory. In studying how players could divide winnings based on expected winnings, Pascal created the idea of expected value, which is the weighted average of all possible values that this random variable can take on. These mathematical ideas of probability helped software developers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to develop more complex computer games, including internet gambling.

Programming Language

  • Pascal's varied knowledge in mathematics and philosophy provided to be an inspiration to Niklaus Wirth when he was looking for a name for a new computer programming language. Wirth named the language after Pascal in 1970. Since then it has become an influential programming language known
    to be effective when coders were looking for an efficient way to deal with structured programming and data structuring. Pascal has been used for PC games and other computer-based research projects.

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