Ada Lovelace, First Coder, Honored in Google Doodle
Lady Lovelace proved that girls can code — in 1843.
CREDIT: Alfred Edward Chalon/Wikimedia Commons
Women can not only code, but the first coder was a woman. Born 197 years ago today, Ada Lovelace is considered the first person to write a computer program and also the first to realize that a computer could do more than straight math. She achieved all this before a computer had even been built. Lady Lovelace is honored on her birthday in a Google Doodle on the search engine's home page.
Though she had a number of achievements considered impressive for anyone and remarkable for a woman in the early 19th century, Lovelace remains best know for her work with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine, which could be considered as perhaps the first failed tech startup. Still unfinished to this day, the Analytical Engine was a steam-powered attempt to compute without electricity that was controlled by paper punch cards.
Though Babbage never built the hardware, Lovelace wrote the software — including a set of instructions for the machine to calculate a complex number series known as the Bernoulli Number. In an example of right brain/left brain achievement, she came up with this in 1843 while translating a paper on the Analytical Engine from French to English. [See also: Could the Computer Age Have Begun in Victorian England?]
Lovelace was, after all, the daughter of poet Lord Byron. But for that very reason, her mother, the mathematician Annabella Milbanke, taught Lovelace science, logic and mathematics, hoping that the strict regimen would save her from the "poetic temperament" of the wild father, who abandoned the family shortly after she was born.
Impressive as it is, Lovelace's program is just one of her accomplishments. Perhaps her largest achievement was one that few could even understand for another century: She realized that computers could do more than calculate numbers. The numbers, she realized, could be symbols for other ideas. While Babbage was trying to build a giant calculator, Lovelace was already envisioning a PC.
Her first idea was to compose using the mathematics of music, writing:
"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."
As with many visionaries, Lovelace's ideas were so ahead of their time that other people had to reinvent them about a century later when the technology was beginning to catch up to what she had envisioned.