Q. What was the influence of Lord Byron–aristocrat, rake, poet, and author of Don Juan–on the first computer?
A. Directly? Nothing.
Indirectly, though, in the cause and effect world of failed marriages and unhappy estranged wives, Lord Byron’s poetic nature, and fanciful imagination, and generally wild ways did have an impact on the first computing machine, the Difference Engine, the mechanical computer conceived by mathematician Charles Babbage in the 1820s.
The link came through Byron’s daughter, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, or as she is commonly known, Ada Lovelace.
Ada was Byron’s only daughter by his wife Annabella Milbanke, who had a passion for mathematics, and who was determined to suppress any Byron-influenced creativity in her daughter. Ada’s imagination blossomed in the field of mathematics and she is credited with being the first computer programmer, inspiring Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.
And today, October 14, 2014 is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Did you know that? I didn’t. I’d never heard of Ada Lovelace Day, (or, truth be told, Ada Lovelace) and probably would not have unless I’d chanced upon a review in the Wall Street Journal of the book Ada’s Algorithm, by James Essinger.
It piqued my curiosity because one of the sites I follow, pastnow.com has been reporting on the budding courtship of Byron and Ada’s mother, Annabella Milbanke. Fellow Regency author Caroline Warfield and I had a Facebook discussion about why these two mismatched individuals married.
Caroline: Why on earth did she accept his offer of marriage?
Me: I have no idea. I don’t know much about either of them.
Inspired to learn more, I stumbled across the observance of Ada Lovelace Day, as well as an article about ten Mothers of Technology, women who have made significant achievements in science, technology, engineering and math fields, including Ada, of course, and actress Hedy Lamarr.
For most of my life I’ve associated creativity with art, words, music. In fact, recently I told one of my nieces, a young lady so brilliant in math that she won national prizes in grade school, that I don’t have a math brain, and I find math, well, boring.
“No, no, no,” she said. “Everyone has a math brain. And math is beautiful.”
Perhaps it is. Perhaps if we framed that world of signs and equations as something beautiful, more of our sons and daughters would be interested. What do you think?
Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
All images: Wikimedia Commons