“Once Upon a Time…”
Everyone reading this post has never not known some form of computer interaction – the fact that you’re reading this on a device is definite proof!
Whether it be from your groceries scanned at the food store – the price “magically” appearing on the display – the more intricate and inner workings of your automobile, to a cellular device that has more programming in it than Apollo 11, much of the world is surrounded by technology hundreds of times a day.
“…the iPhone 6’s clock is 32,600 times faster than the best Apollo era computers and could perform instructions 120,000,000 times faster.”(1.)
Imagine when this wasn’t the case … it really wasn’t so long ago.
In our continuing series for Women’s Month, we are focusing on the first computer programme to be written … in 1843!
Ada (Byron) Lovelace, born to the poet Lord Byron and his wife, is the first person to “have recognized that the full potential of a computing machine, and one of the first computer programmers.” (2.)
After her father’s death when she was only 8, her mother promoted her towards maths and sciences as she feared that, if focused on English, Ada would become mentally ill and pass away in early life like her father. By twenty she was married to a man that would be made the Earl of Lovelace making her a Countess. With an engaging aristocratic social life, Ada managed to invite such intellects as Sir David Brewster, Charles Watson and Michael Faraday while still staying in constant touch with her mathematics mentor from Cambridge, Charles Babbage the “father of the computer” known as the Analytical Engine. (3.)
In the mid 1800’s at the turn of the Industrial Revolution, machines were used for single source applications – in other words sewing machines were used to sew, steam engines were used for power and so on. Ada, through a complex series of applications, saw that the Analytical Engine could build beyond single source and be constructed to have a wide variety of uses.
“An Italian engineer, Luigi Frederico Menabrea wrote a paper on Babbage’s Analytical Engine. He wrote it in French, however Lovelace, who knew French, spent months, translating and notating Menabrea’s paper. Her notes ended up being three times longer than the actual work and she understood the workings and possibilities of the Analytical Engine better than even Babbage, its inventor. What’s more, within her detailed work, she created a way for the engine to calculate Bernoulli numbers in steps.”(4.)
“The Analytical Engine can do whatever we know how to order it to perform…. it can follow analysis, but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths” Lovelace wrote.
As we look into all the interactions we have with technology, that statement is as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago, however with the ongoing development of Artificial Intelligence we are moving far beyond where even Ada Lovelace would have imagined.