HAPPY ADA LOVELACE DAY. Perhaps you weren't even aware, but today is the day that we mark the impact of women in technology in tribute to the first computer programmer.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and friend of Charles Babbage, was responsible for papers showing examples of programming for Babbage's Analytical Engine, the successor to the Difference Engine. You can see a reconstruction of the Difference Engine at London's Science Museum completed in a way that Babbage's never was.
The Analytical Engine, meanwhile, has never been completed, but the blueprints and concepts behind it were clear enough that Lovelace could see its potential and began to work on it, despite the apathy of the science establishment at the time.
Her notes include the first example of an algorithm designed to be carried out by a computer, and it's this, arguably the first computer program, that she is more remembered for. But there was so much more. She got things wrong, and in doing so created the first bug, and fixed it making her the first debugger and software tester.
But even as a child she had a fascination with science, of a kind. She wanted to be a fairy, and designed steam-augmented wings in the hope that one day she would fly. She even wrote a book, Flyology, about her experiments.
She talked of the connection between Babbage's work and human biology, expressing her desire to map the algorithm of the human thought process, while at the same time dismissing the idea of artificial intelligence so forcefully that Alan Turing actually wrote a rebuttal in a paper 90 years later.
Ever since Ada Lovelace Day started in 2009, it has been a chance to shine the spotlight on the thousands of women who, like Lovelace, have expertise in maths and science that puts a lot of men higher up the career ladder to shame, something that even today, 150 years later, puts them in a minority for no apparent reason save for a glass ceiling.
Lovelace was highly educated, wealthy and very well connected. She'd probably find the continuing inequities in the 'jobs for the boys' ethos that still seems to permeate the industry all terribly horrifying, but amusing.
Still, it comes down to groups of misogynists at the top of their game and in a position to immediately put to one side a CV with a female name on it, but say they are pro-women in science because they've admired one of Rachel Riley's outfits on Countdown.
Ironically, Lovelace's interest in science and mathematics stems from her mother's desire to make her as little like her errant father as possible. She saw science as a way to separate her mentally from the 'insanity' of the womanising lord. It's a bizarre twist of fate that the vocation that was chosen to make her as 'unblokeish' as possible is now dominated by blokes.
But Lovelace took to it, and the rest as history. In the end she kept her fascination with her father, and is buried beside him, and throughout her life she was dogged with rumours concerning inappropriate relationships with men who were not her husband.
And yet today, computing is still dominated by men who look at women, not as their colleagues but as juniors. Even those who have made it to the top have done so kicking and screaming at the inequities they've seen along the way.
Ada Lovelace died of cancer at the age of just 36, but her impact is beyond that of most people twice her age. She set the wheels of computing in motion. µ
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