Google Doodle celebrates Ada Lovelace


Google celebrates Ada Lovelace, who, the company notes in a blog post “published the first algorithm intended for use on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.” (Designed by Kevin Laughlin/Courtesy of Google)
December 10, 2012

Google celebrated a true tech pioneer with a Monday Doodle commemorating the 197th birthday of Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace — more commonly known as Ada Lovelace.

Lovelace is often credited with being the first computer programmer. She worked with Charles Babbage, who laid out the plans for the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine — two machines designed to store numbers and data that were the forerunners to the modern computer.

Lovelace was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, though her parents separated shortly after her birth. She was raised by her mother, Annabelle Milbanke Byron, described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “mathematically inclined” and determined to raise Lovelace with a focus on the sciences to combat whatever artistic temperament she may have inherited from her father.

At the age of 17, Lovelace was among the first to grasp the importance of Babbage’s machines, Google noted. In her correspondence, as reported by New Scientist magazine, Lovelace said that “the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.” She also noted that the Analytical Engine “does not occupy common ground with mere calculating machines” and had the potential to run complicated programs of its own.

She imagined, for example, that computers could be used to compose music — something Google refers to in its doodle, which traces the path of computing from Lovelace’s quill to laptop and tablet composition.

In 1843, she translated and heavily annotated a manuscript on Babbage’s engine written by Italian mathematician Louis Menebrea. Her annotations included the first algorithm designed to be read by the Analytical Machine. That has earned her recognition as the world’s first computer programmer, though some debate the title because the machine she programmed for was never built.

Nevertheless, she is still recognized as a true technology pioneer. Her legacy lives on in the name of the computer programming language Ada and is commemorated every Oct. 16 on “Ada Lovelace Day,” a day set aside to celebrating the achievement of all women in the sciences.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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