If you missed it, Google has celebrated the 197th birthday of Ada Lovelace with a beautiful Google doodle. She is often referred to the first programmer and is chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. As an English mathematician who worked at the advent of the concept of general computing, her work set the stage upon which all modern developers strut their stuff.
I have been a fan of Lady Lovelace as far back as I can remember. For me, she romantically ties together every world that I find fascinating: as a programmer, she’s one of the first researchers to give computers to science; as a writer, she’s the daughter then absentee father poet Lord Byron, friend of Mary Shelley author of Frankenstein. As a developer and a science fiction author (and reader) I couldn’t be immediately fall in love with her impact on Victorian mathematics and eventually modern computer science.
Ada’s early notes on programming Babbage’s engine are extremely important for the history of general computing—in fact, it’s apparent she foresaw the eventual nature of computers to move beyond raw number crunching and reach into the era where they would perform a myriad of tasks. One of those tasks is as a word processor, layout engine, and possibly within minutes of my writing these words, translate them across the globe for thousands to read.
The Google Doodle has Ada sitting at a desk, quill in hand, jotting away a program onto a scroll of paper—this forms the word Google—and as the scroll marches onwards spelling the name of the search juggernaut, it passes by iconic innovations in the history of computing. First appears the rows of silver buttons and a wooden box that could have housed the very Analytical Engine she wrote that code for. Next, what looks as if it could be a Atanasoff–Berry Computer, one of the first digital computing devices ever produced—with wires and gauges hanging about. After that the scroll passes what looks like the green-lit monitor of perhaps an early IBM personal computer. It finally ends next to modern day devices such as the sleek laptop and a tablet PC.
We’ve come a long way since the brass keys and wooden box of Victorian mechanical computers—and we still have a great deal of distance to go with general computing.
I salute Lovelace’s amazing contribution to technology, to all my chosen vocations from computer science to science fiction, and I hope that you spend a minute or two to read up on her life and work.