The First Geek . . .

Was a woman.

So all this stereotyping has to stop. Right now.

This Friday, 7th October, is Ada Lovelace Day where we celebrate women engineers, scientists, technologists and mathematicians. And here’s why . . .

1842:

Charles Babbage presents a seminar at the University of Turin to discuss his analytical engine. He proposes an even more powerful machine than his original (and as yet only half-built) difference engine. Whereas the difference engine (though exceptional for its time) is just a number-cruncher, the analytical engine will accept input via punch cards and will be capable of more complex logic control, such as branching and looping, making it the world’s first computer.

Ultimately neither machine is built. The British government of the time decide to withdraw funding (seems little has changed since then–little yellow circles top left), leaving Babbage’s difference engine unfinished and plans for a future analytical engine well and truly scuppered. It will take another 100 years for the clever people at Bletchley Park to work on something that actually resembles a computer.

Immediately after Babbage’s seminar, Luigi Menabrea (an Italian engineer) writes up Babbage’s lecture in French. Babbage subsequently asks a young female acquaintance, Ada Lovelace, to translate these notes into English. Ada carries out the translation and, as an accomplished  mathematician, she adds a few notes of her own. Babbage asks her to augment these notes . . .

1843:

After a year working on her notes–which are now longer than the original French translation she was asked to work on–Ada hands over the finished article to Babbage. What Ada has done is to describe a methodology for sequencing commands for Babbage’s proposed analytical engine.

Her notes are a language. The first computer language.

Unfortunately, without a working analytical engine, Ada’s theory is never tested.

1852:

Ada Lovelace dies at the age of thirty-six from a combination of uterine cancer and blood-letting performed by her doctors.

1980:

Computer programming language written for the United States Department of Defense is named ‘Ada‘ in honour of Ada Lovelace.

1991:

The London Science Museum builds a working difference engine to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of Babbage’s birth.

2009:

Ada Lovelace Day launched.

2010:

John Graham-Cumming starts an organisation called Plan 28 to build Babbage’s analytical engine. BBC News story here.

2011:

Digitisation of Babbage’s plans starts 21st September (just 10 days ago!).

This year Ada Lovelace Day will be on 7th October (next Friday).

You can pop along to the Finding Ada website for inspirational stories and events celebrating women engineers, scientists, technologists and mathematicians.

And who knows . . . if Plan 28 goes ahead, then perhaps one of these days we might see an (albeit rather delayed) ‘Hello World‘ from Ada herself.

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