Monday, December 10, 2012

Ada Lovelace: An Inspiring Pioneer of Computer Science


Today, Google is celebrating the 197th birthday of Ada Lovelace- with a Google doodle that honors her contributions to computer science.

1. The Founder of Scientific Computing

Ada Lovelace, was an English mathematician and writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.

She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise and potential.

“Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

She rightly perceived the engine as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for "developing and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine is the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity." Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.

2. The World's First Computer Programmer


Ada’s notes on the Analytics Engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine. Because of this, she is often considered the world's first computer programmer. The computer language Ada , was named after Ada Lovelace. She predicted:

“[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine...”

Such analysis was a conceptual leap from previous ideas about the capabilities of computing devices, and foreshadowed the capabilities and implications of the modern computer. Thus, Ada Lovelace was the visionary half of the team that helped create the modern computer.

3. The Enchantress of Numbers 

Ada called herself "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)," and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She vividly described 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.

Babbage was impressed by Ada's intellect and writing skills. He called her "The Enchantress of Numbers". In 1843 he wrote of her:

“Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans
– every thing in short but the Enchantress of Numbers”

Can she also be honored as the “Mother of Data Analytics”, luckily now, we are living in such a wonderful Big Data world, weaved around with Brontobyte ~1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of data.

Lovelace is recognized as a true technology pioneer. And her recognition as one of the most prophetic people in computing has led to the creation of Ada Lovelace Day, an "international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths" held annually in mid-October.

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