Ada Lovelace Day 2015

“Ada Lovelace portrait” by Alfred Edward Chalon – Science & Society Picture Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Tuesday 13th October 2015 is the date for this year’s annual Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron; 10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852)

Lady Lovelace was a pioneer of science and technology and a visionary who, back in Victorian times, was able to foresee the modern age of computing with amazing clarity; she is often regarded as the first ever computer programmer thanks to her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, work which included a way of calculating Bernoulli numbers using the machine.

The Science Museum, whose brand new Ada Lovelace exhibition opens on the day, describe her as follows:

Called the ‘Enchantress of number’ by Charles Babbage, Lovelace was the daughter of infamous poet Lord Byron and the admired intellect Annabella Milbanke. She studied science and maths at a time when women rarely had access to such subjects and collaborated with Babbage on his calculating machines. Lovelace is now celebrated for identifying the machines’ potential to manipulate symbols rather than just numbers, foreshadowing modern computing a century in advance.

Whilst there is some speculation over the extent of her contributions regarding Babbage’s machine, her vision as to the potential of such technology is unquestionable. In her writings, it is clear she saw what others didn’t; she saw beyond the mere processing of numbers. She could envisage much of what we have today, as in the example given here of the ability to sequence music which has today become commonplace:

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent

Analytical Engine

Babbage’s Analytical Engine, 1834-1871. This trial model is on display at the Science Museum.

Ada Lovelace Day 2015

There is a full programme of events taking place all over the world including a major ‘science cabaret’ event, Ada Lovelace Day Live! which will be held in London on the evening of the 13th October and features some top STEM speakers. ALD Live is described as “…an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music suitable for women and men, and girls and boys over the age of 12.” See the website for details of speakers, tickets, venue, etc.

The Science Museum have timed their brand new Ada Lovelace exhibition to open on the day and will run through till 31st March 2016.

The BBC have put together a collection of programmes across television and radio called Inspired by Ada; a collection on women in science, maths, and the internet – all inspired by Ada Lovelace.

Ada is the subject of a brilliant BBC4 documentary presented by Dr Hannah Fry (UCL) entitled Calculating Ada: the Countess of Computing (available on iPlayer till 18th October), a documentary which looks beyond her acclaimed achievements to find out who the real Ada Lovelace was; Dr Fry has also written a short biographical article to accompany the documentary entitled Not your typical role model: Ada Lovelace the 19th century programmer.

Ada also recently featured on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives series when Matthew Parris talked to Konnie Huq and Suw Charman-Anderson.