Film shines new light on Boole as forefather of information age

Worldwide acclaim for unsung UCC mathematician who devised Boolean logic

Film, to be broadcast on September 1st, is narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons. Photograph: Eric Luke

Film, to be broadcast on September 1st, is narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The impact of mathematician George Boole’s work on technology today is explored in a new film commissioned by University College Cork to be screened on RTÉ next month.

Narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, The Genius of George Boole assembles academics and industry leaders from across the globe to explore the life and importance of one of the world’s greatest unsung heroes.

The film, to be broadcast on September 1st, shines new light on the legacy of Boole, recognised as the forefather of the information age.

Film producer and Ireland’s digital champion, Lord David Puttnam, sets the scene for the film by posing the question: “Is George Boole important?” Puttnam continues: “I guess, no George Boole, no Google, no Amazon. ”

Google

Sitting in his office at Google, Prof Geoffrey Hinton, a leading expert on artificial intelligence and Boole’s great-great-grandson, comments: “Anyone who knows how computers work knows about Boolean logic . . . That’s right down there at the basis of modern computing.”

Intel vice-president Rory McInerney adds: “At the core of the computer chip is essentially a switch, an on/off switch; in today’s chip this is on a silicon chip so you have a transistor.” As the film shows, the grand designer of this elegantly simple yet radical idea is George Boole.

Filmed in Ireland, the UK and the US, the documentary investigates Boole’s life and motivations, from his humble background as a cobbler’s son from Lincoln, England, born in 1815.

Boole’s genius became apparent from a young age. Without a university education and given his family background, finding a role within the formal structures of British society was challenging.

The film considers how and why the newly-founded Queen’s College, Cork (now known as UCC) which had opened in 1849, provided him with a job as its first professor of mathematics and the financial resources to support his family back in England.

Boole passed away from “effusion of the lungs” on December 8th, 1864.

Many of the mathematical topics taught in schools today, including set theory, probability and binary numbers, can be traced back to Boole.