Documentary to highlight George Boole’s impact on how we live today

A film commissioned by University College Cork, to be screened on RTÉ next month, explores the impact of mathematician George Boole’s work on technology today.

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

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

World-renowned film producer and Ireland’s Digital Champion, 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.”

Sitting in his office at Google, Geoffrey Hinton — the world’s 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.”

According to Intel vice president Rory McInerney: “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 was Boole.

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

His 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 looks at how and why the then newly founded Queen’s College, Cork (now UCC) 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.

Boolean algebra was first applied to electrical switching circuits in the 193’s by Claude Shannon.

Many of the mathematical topics taught in schools today, including set theory, probability, and binary numbers, can be traced back to Boole. He also invented invariant theory, which made a contribution to operator theory and differential equations.

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