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To kick off our Ada Lovelace Day blog series, I’m going to write about the eponymous woman herself.

Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) was an English mathematician and writer, mainly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her work on the engine include the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine, and thus she is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer. She described her work as “poetical science” and described herself as an “Analyst (& Metaphysician)”.

Ada suffered from various chronic illnesses and disabilities throughout her life. Despite being ill she developed her mathematical and technological passion, famously designing a meticulous steam flying machine in her early teens.

As a teenager, Ada’s mathematical talents led her to begin her working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, known as ‘the father of computers’. Babbage was impressed by Lovelace’s intellect and analytic skills, dubbing her “The Enchantress of Number”.While working together, she developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond calculating or number-crunching, while many others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities. Her mind-set of “poetical science” led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine examining how individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool. She believed that intuition and imagination were critical to effectively applying mathematical and scientific concepts. She valued metaphysics as much as mathematics, viewing both as tools for exploring “the unseen worlds around us”.

Lovelace died at the young age of 36 from uterine cancer, a few short years after the publication of her notes on the Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine remained a vision, until her notes became one of the critical documents to inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Her thwarted potential, and her passion and vision for technology, have made her a powerful symbol for modern women in technology.

Cath Elms
LGBT+ Staff Network co-chair

October 24th, 2016

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