The making of the digital world: from Charles Babbage to the present and beyond

13 October 2011

Speaker: Dr Andrew Viterbi FREng

Over a century and a half ago, Charles Babbage published the concept of the first digital computer which he sought to construct as a mechanical machine. A century later, by the outset of World War II, the necessary electrical infrastructure had been developed, and a number of machines were built, initially in support of the war effort and later for scientific and business applications.

From these modest beginnings, the subsequent six decades have witnessed the technological evolution which now impacts practically everyone on the planet. Shortly after the end of the war all the theoretical underpinnings were in place: solid state physics, leading to massive device integration needed for compact and affordable infrastructure, the mathematical principles underlying computer architecture, design and software as well as the theory of information and communication.

Over time, most enterprises, whether private or public, saw their operations digitally reconstructed. It took a few more decades for the technology to impact on consumers. Though this began 30 years ago with the first PCs, it was not until personal two-way communication via the internet, both wired and wireless, that humankind became digitally interconnected. The cultural, social and political consequences are currently transforming our lives in novel and unexpected ways.

Dr Andrew Viterbi FREng
Dr Viterbi is a co-founder, retired Vice Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of Qualcomm Incorporated. He spent equal portions of his career in industry and in academia as Professor in the Schools of Engineering and Applied Science, first at UCLA and then at UCSD, at which he is now Professor Emeritus. He is currently President of the Viterbi Group, a technical advisory and investment company. He also serves as a Presidential Chair and Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California and a distinguished Visiting Professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

His principal research contribution, the Viterbi Algorithm, is used in most digital mobile phones and digital satellite receivers, as well as in such diverse fields as magnetic recording, voice recognition and DNA sequence analysis. More recently, he concentrated his efforts on establishing CDMA as the multiple access technology of choice for cellular telephony and wireless data communication.

Dr Viterbi has received numerous honors both in the US and internationally. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received an honorary title from the President of Italy and the National Medal of Science from the President of the United States. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Keywords: Andrew Viterbi, International Medal, mobile communications, Technology Visionaries, computer theory, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, solid state physics, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, William Shockley, information theory, Claude Shannon, Bletchley Park, Colossus, transistor, Bell Labs, integrated circuit, Gordon Moore, Moore’s Law, evolution of computing, connectivity, DARPA, ARPANET, satellite communication, bandwidth, search engines, mobile communications devices, GPS, CDMA, Mark Miodownik, Viterbi algorithm, open source, patents, entrepreneurship, space race, wireless networks, mobile devices, engineering education, research funding, data security, cryptography, telecommunications standards

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