Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lady Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Lady Ada Lovelace Day. I have written about her in a previous post Technology Today - How Did We Get here? in an unpublished article for The Sunday Times as follows:

An Englishman, Charles Babbage, is recognized today as the Father of Computers - he was the first person to think of the concept of a programmable computer. In 1822 he began work on a Difference Engine that could calculate a series of values automatically. Though this was a very large machine weighing over 13 tonnes and standing over two meters high, it was never completed. A replica of the Difference Engine was built in 1991 by the British Science Museum, which could give results of calculations up to 31 digits - more than a modern pocket calculator. Lady Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, worked with Babbage and wrote some instructions (programs) for his machines. For this, she is regarded as the first computer programmer - though they didn't know it at the time, this was the first combination of hardware and software.

I always mention her as the first computer programmer in a class I give at the beginning of a Technology Fundamentals module for 1st years on the History of Computing. As with most other Colleges, there is a dearth of women students taking Technology courses, and it is my way to give encouragement to the women in my class from the history books. Here first programme was a calculation using Babbage's Engine to calculate Bernouilli numbers.

It is interesting that 158 years after her death (at the age of 36) she is still remembered.

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