The impact of George Boole’s work on technology today is explored in a new film commissioned by University College Cork, to be screened on RTÉ One on September 1 at 22:35.
Narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and produced by multi award-winning Oxford Film and Television, 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 58-minute film shines new light on the legacy of George 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, no Intel…that makes him pretty important,” emphasising to viewers this unknown mathematician is indeed a key figure in our global age.
Sitting in his office at Google, Professor 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 is George Boole.
Another contributor, Boole’s biographer and UCC’s Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Des MacHale, offers insights into Boole’s life and Mathematics.
Filmed in Ireland, 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 for the young Boole.
The film looks back at how and why the newly-founded Queen’s College, Cork (now known as 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.
Importantly, the role in Cork gave Boole the freedom to pursue his mathematical research, while coping with witnessing the social inequalities in Cork after the Great Famine.
The film asks if Ireland’s economic and social circumstances impacted Boole and stimulated him to question universal truths about the human condition and the mind of God. Dr Mark Hocknull, Chancellor, Lincoln Cathedral and Visiting Senior Fellow, University of Lincoln, discusses how Boole deals with these big questions.
The theme is further advanced by Intel’s Rory McInerney, when he says Boole “was looking at human problems, trying to understand the way people think, what makes them human…”
You can watch The Genius of George Boole on RTÉ One at 22:35 on 1st September.