Tech heroes in line for 'Greatest Briton' award

Tech pioneers who made computing and the Web possible have been nominated in a nationwide poll to discover the greatest British person ever

The father of computing, the founder of computer science and the inventor of the World Wide Web all rank among the hundred greatest ever Britons, according to the UK public. Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and Tim Berners-Lee have all been shortlisted by a nationwide survey, conducted by the BBC, to find the greatest ever Briton. Over 30,000 people took part in the poll, and the overall winner will be chosen by the public in a further vote later this year. The BBC revealed the names of the 100 individuals who had attracted the most votes on Wednesday. A total of 20 scientists and inventors are included -- more than for any other category. Babbage, Turing and Berners-Lee rub shoulders with the likes of Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, James Watt and Stephen Hawking. Other individuals included in the top 100 include Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Horatio Nelson and Queen Elizabeth I. "The Father of Computing"
Charles Babbage, who was born in 1791, is regarded as the father of computing because of his research into machines that could calculate. Babbage's Difference Engine Number 1 was the first device ever devised that could calculate and print mathematical tables. Babbage also spent years working on a more sophisticated device, the Analytical Engine. As well as being able to calculate sums, the Analytical Engine could also read data from punchcards -- giving it a memory and the ability to make decisions based on previous calculations. But politicians of the day did not provide the financial backing that Babbage sought, and the Analytical Engine was never completed. Its importance to modern computing, though, is illustrated by the fact that the computing language ADA was named after Augusta Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the English poet Lord Byron, who worked with Babbage on the Analytical Engine. Founding computer science
Alan Turing was both an unlikely hero of the Second World War and a vital player in the birth of computing. Born in 1912, Turing's research into mathematics at Cambridge University led to his famous paper On Computable Numbers, published in 1936. Turing proved that in theory a machine could be constructed to prove that a mathematical theorem was true, and also argued that it would be possible to create a machine, now known as the Universal Turing Machine, that could solve all mathematical problems. By realising that a machine could be adaptable enough to carry out a range of different tasks when supplied with the appropriate program rather than being constructed to just solve one problem, Turing's vision laid the foundations for modern computing. During World War Two, Turing -- an anti-war protestor in the 1930s -- worked at the top-secret Bletchley Park. At Bletchley teams of cryptanalysts tried to crack coded German military and intelligence communications. The German military coded their messages using Enigma machines, which were thought to be totally unbreakable. Turing designed an electro-mechanical machine called a bombe that speeded up the decryption process, which meant that the Bletchley teams were able to decode many of Germany's military communications. Winston Churchill once described Bletchley Park as Britain's secret weapon that won the second World War. Weaving the Web
Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while working for CERN -- the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland -- has been credited as one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Berners-Lee in 1980 first wrote a program, Enquire, that allowed him to link together related documents stored on his computer. These hypertext links allowed him to organise his work by "remembering" the association between two documents. The next stage was to link to documents stored on other computers. To make this possible, in 1990 Berners-Lee started work on creating the first World Wide Web server -- "httpd", the first Web browser, the URL addressing system and HTML, the language used to code Web pages. By the summer of 1991 Berners-Lee's browser, called "WorldWideWeb" was available on the Internet. Berners-Lee's work was recognised last year when he was made a fellow of the Royal Society, the prestigious British scientific body. Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.