Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace. © Benoît Labourdette.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) is considered to be the first programmer in the history of computer science, even before the existence of this discipline. She had discovered and developed a passion for the “Babbage Difference Machine”, a kind of gigantic calculating machine. But from this, she designed modes of operation, the founders of computer science, which went far beyond the machine itself. She was unable to implement them concretely.

Babbage’s machine was designed to do only one type of computation. Ada Lovelace conceptually extended the possibilities by proposing that a computing machine could be universal, i.e. could do all types of operations on all types of objects. Ada Lovelace did not only dream of the universality of computing, she also proposed technical solutions, namely :

  • She envisioned that numerical calculations of machines could represent other thing than numbers, especially logical operations, and anything we want: texts, sounds, images, concepts...
  • She also considered, deepening Babbage’s ideas, to use the perforated cards of the Jacquard looms to be able to reprogram the machines at leisure. It seems obvious today, to store memory and instructions on a medium, but even the first ultra-fast computer of the American army, the ENIAC in 1945, did not have this functionality at the beginning, its programming going through tangled cable connections, which had to be manually reconnected one by one to execute a different program, which took hours.
  • She designed the operating logic of modern computer languages, i.e. subroutines, recursive loops, conditional connections...

Ada Lovelace’s concepts have inspired John Von Neumann and many others and form the basis of the operating logic of modern computing and its uses. For example, she wrote “The machine could compose refined and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity”, unknowingly foreshadowing the logic and fields of application of artificial intelligence.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron who was the initiator, the year of Ada’s birth in 1815, of a “writing workshop” with several of her friends, which gave birth to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the first occurrence of the idea of a humanoid created by man, which escapes her... It is astonishing that it is her own daughter who will pose major stones of the future science which will allow, two centuries later, the real manufacture of the intelligent robot which will free itself from the human.

Link to the founding text of Ada Lovelace.

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