Skip to comments.Ada Lovelace Day: A Celebration of the World’s First Computer Programmer
Posted on 10/15/2013 3:08:58 PM PDT by nickcarraway
If you happen to do anything other than sleep in a cave today, chances are you have Ada Lovelace to thank for it. She is responsible for the first ever computer program. And she came up with it long before the computer even existed.
Today is the fifth annual Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating the achievement of a Victorian mother-of-three who would change the world.
Lets travel back through time for a moment. Before the ZX Spectrum and before the Atari 2600, there was a thing that historians like to call the 19th century. The computer may have existed as a concept in the 1800s, but it had yet to materialise into something tangible. One idea for a computer was the Analytical Engine, a proposal for a clockwork counting machine which was conceived by English mathematician Charles Babbage. In 1842, Babbage went to the University of Turin to deliver a lecture on the Analytical Engine and notes were taken by an Italian mathematician, Luigi Menabrea.
MORE: Who was Ada Lovelace? All you need to know
Lovelace was asked by Babbages friend, inventor Charles Wheatstone, to translate Menabreas notes from French to English. She did a little more than that, however, expanding on the original writings three-fold and, crucially, describing an algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute an established sequence of numbers. This made her the first ever computer programmer.
Unfortunately, the Analytical Engine was never completed, so there was no way to test Lovelaces theory. However, her place in computing history was assured.
Lovelace may have had her own Google Doodle last year, to mark her 197th birthday, but she isnt exactly spoken of in the same breath as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Ada Lovelace Day is about shining the spotlight on her achievement and inspiring more women into careers in the technology sector.
She was the first computer programmer and also really the first person to understand what a computer could do and this was at a time when there werent any computers, said Suw Charman-Anderson, social technologist and founder of Ada Lovelace Day.
She wrote what is essentially a computer program. She wrote a description of how the machine could be programmed using punched cards to calculate Bernoulli numbers, a complex series of numbers.
She broke the process for calculating the numbers down into small formulae and then she described how you would code those formulae into punched cards, so it could be worked out by the machine.
She understood that the Analytical Engine could actually be used given the right algorithms to create music or to create art. That was a massive leap because, at the time, Babbage was mainly thinking about big tables of numbers.
Babbage must have known, however, that the translation would be in safe hands. He and Lovelace had long been friends and he was impressed by her mathematical prowess he nicknamed her The Enchantress of Numbers.
Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron and was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Both died aged 36. But her short life was packed with incident. Byron left Adas mother a month after she was born, an event which had a huge bearing on her future. Her mother, Anne Isabella, wanted to steer Ada clear of the literary path followed by her father, turning her towards mathematics.
Women werent supposed to have an education but she was actually educated by some of the best minds of the era, said Charman-Anderson. Her mother was very keen that Ada be schooled in maths and science. It was medication through mathematics.
When she was 19, Ada married William King, a baron, who three years later became the Earl of Lovelace. She had three children, but was also the subject of rumours about extra-marital affairs. She also tried to use her maths knowledge to come up with a sure-fire formula for gambling, which only led her into debt. She died of uterine cancer in 1852 and was buried next to her father in Nottingham, as per her request.
It was another century until Lovelace would receive recognition, when World War II codebreaker Alan Turing referenced her work.
What is amazing is not just that she wrote a programme to calculate these numbers, but she did so without a working machine to test it on, said Charman-Anderson, adding that the Analytical Engine was a bit of an evolutionary dead end.
An evening of science cabaret will be held at Ada Lovelace Day Live at Imperial College London tonight, one of more than 30 events taking place across the world to commemorate the computer programmer.
With women making up only 17 per cent of the technology workforce in Britain, there is a hope that Lovelace could inspire the next generation of female computer whizzes. Belinda Parmar, chief executive of Lady Geek, which has organised the HER in Hero (#HERinHero) campaign, backed by more than 40 MPs, for Ada Lovelace Day, said: Were trying to inspire girls to change the world through technology. Female heroes are not celebrated in the way male heroes are in history and particularly in technology. Lots of people dont know who these women are.
The fact that computer science is so male-dominated makes it easy for Lovelace to be dismissed, said Charman-Anderson. While women are better placed today than 200 years ago, she said they still battle a constant drip of dissuasion and discouragement to going into tech.
Lovelace is an inspiration, she said. You can look at Adas work and say that there is a direct line through Turing to modern computer science. She is one of the key figures in the founding of computer science because she really had a grasp of what computers could do, long before they were even built, and it was unfortunate in a sense that she was born when she was. She was not just ahead of her time she was 100 years ahead of her time.
OH! That Lovelace, I had to slow down and reread the title. I just knew it couldn’t be the other one.
Lovelace? Rings a bell, but I don’t think it had anything to do with computers...of course; the memory isn’t what it used to be...
Have programed in Ada but I really hate to see programming broken down into gender when talking about who or what was the first program/programmer. It just keeps getting so gender related instead of just who or what was discovered - can’t we just agree that the discovery was great, whoever discovered or started the “thing”. Doubt that it will change though, too many invested in gender politics to ever let things go.
Really, does anyone care whether the inventor of anything was a man or woman? How about we just celebrate the inventor regardless of gender!
They set up patterns for the Jacquard loom to turn out complex patterns of cloth.
They even used punched cards to hold the program steps.
Ada Lovelace came much later.
Good ol Ada.
Language of languages.
Well EEgator I’m glad you saw the humor in my comment! Sometimes a chuckle is better than taking everything serious.
Grace Hopper...all Navy and a great programmer/mathematician
Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language.
Grace Hopper on Youtube
The 10 minute Letterman appearance is good.
I saw her waving her nanosecond once on TV. She was a hoot. A geek with personality.
Didn’t she speak about nano seconds?
Ha! You got me by more than a nano second ;)
I think it’s about eleven inches. The nanosecond, that is.
I thought the same thing until I had to reread
I agree to a point, but there really aren’t many female inventors or scientist.
It’s nice for technical women to have positive role models.
As a female software engineer, I like Ada Lovelace!
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