In Celebration of Ada Lovelace Day

by Betty Alexandra Toole, Ed.D.

If you don't know Ada Lovelace let me introduce you to her, as she is a fascinating human being. I got to know her intimately by hand transcribing, back in the 1980s, both her letters and publications. At that time they did not allow a computer into either the Bodleian Library at Oxford or the British library where her letters are found. My two books, "Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers," and many articles, from "poetical science," to "analyst and metaphysician" stem from that endeavor and are described on my web site.

Why Ada Lovelace day? Ada Lovelace is addicting for once you get to know her you want to know more. It is because she is unique; she is not a model to be put on a pedestal. Her greatest legacy was her ability to think both creatively and critically, which enabled her to be a prophet. She not only predicted the impact of today's computer revolution back in 1843, but she wrote a table of instructions for the proposed Analytical Engine to show how it could calculate a complicated mathematical equation.

Ada, the Countess of Lovelace, was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and a dear friend of Charles Babbage. They both lived in the 19th century and many smart people regard them as pioneers of the computer. Babbage's Analytical Engine never came to pass then, but now looking around I see it has happened, even beyond their wildest dreams, and some of those dreams seemed pretty wild at the time. Ada saw the idea and the structure of Babbage's Analytical Engine, not the Difference Engine, and described it in a publication in 1843 as something new. She saw its possibility to compose music, see and make pictures, and to be a benefit to business. The structure of Babbage's idea and Ada suggesting a perfect example of how the machine might calculate complicated algorithms, as well as her predictions, turned out to be close to the truth.

Gibson and Sterling used Ada as a character in the marvelous science fiction novel the "Difference Engine". Ada had a secret, a modus, and a special way of seeing the world. I call it "Poetical Science" based on a scrap of paper I found in her files. It is not poetry or science, imagination or rationality, it is not romance (putting her on a pedestal) or the opposite (trashing her). It is getting poetry and science as close together so that you can see "the heart of the matter," and when you see the heart of the matter you can predict, as she did in 1843, the potential of an idea. This ability is needed today, by women, by all people, who want to see how technology can benefit mankind and womankind. Ada spelled that need out in 1843, and described how she saw her legacy. She wrote:

"Far be it from me, to disclaim the influence of ambition & fame.; ... I certainly would not deceive myself or others by pretending that it is other than a very important motive & ingredient in my character & nature.
"I wish to add my mite towards expounding & interpreting the Almighty, & his laws & works, for the most effective use of mankind; and certainly, I should feel it no small glory if I were enabled to be one of his most noted prophets...And I should prefer...being known as a benefactor of this description...promulgating truths from obscurity & oblivion."
(Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers, p.230) Betty Alexandra Toole


Back to Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers home