Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Celebrating Ada Lovelace

Many people might know Charles Babbage, the designer of the famed differential and analytical engines (common examples of the first mechanical computers that could have worked if they actually had been built). But have you ever heard of a woman named Ada Lovelace?
Portrait of Ada Lovelace (Commons)

Ada Lovelace is an important historical figure in the early days of computing in two fundamental ways; first, she was the first person to write and describe what could simply be called a program (a set of instructions telling the computer what to do) that could be run through Babbage's analytical engine (in this case it was an algorithm that computes a set of rational numbers called 'Bernoulli numbers').

While this proves her prowess as a mathematician, her truest (and undisputed) contribution came in the form of a leap of thought while observing Babbage's engines. While Babbage (being a number geek) was only interested in his engines being nothing but proficient handlers of big numbers, Lovelace thought beyond this; she envisioned a computing devices which processed, say, sounds of varying characteristics. This was gigantic leap of thought because that allows you to invent something like a music note processing system. Outstanding!

Today, this exemplary act of feminine ingenuity and scholarship is celebrated on every year in mid-October in the form of Ada Lovelace day which celebrates women's contributions to the advancement of human knowledge. I only discovered this today through Google plus's hashtag trends (#AdaLovelaceDay). This is quite an important event and I encourage you to talk about it amongst your social media peers, family and friends. Its important that when we engage in knowledge harvesting, EVERYONE participates. That way we bring in important different ways in looking at a problem(s) and finding solutions to them. Oh, and while you're doing that, spare a minute to think of at least one famous female scientist. If you can, keep searching for more. If you can't, now's the time to take a plunge into discovery!