Trailblazing the Modern Computer Age in the 19th Century: Ada Lovelace
September 15, 2016
September 15, 2016
Computers have become such an integral part of our daily lives, it is difficult to imagine a time when their only use was thought to be solving math problems. In the early 19th century – well before the advent of innovative mouse technology or even typewriters – it was widely believed that computers would never have a use beyond crunching numbers.
Ada Lovelace portrait, Alfred Edward Chalon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It turns out it was a visionary woman – Ada Lovelace – who was one of the first trailblazers to challenge previously held conceptions about computers’ limitations.
Lovelace was a brilliant mathematician, recognized as the world’s first computer programmer and deemed the “Enchantress of Numbers” by an inventor of the earliest computer, Charles Babbage, himself. Though Ada Lovelace was the Countess of Lovelace, she has become widely known for her pursuits beyond her role as an English noblewoman.
After meeting Babbage, Lovelace grew fascinated with his work on mechanical computers, particularly his second invention, the Analytical Engine. (Did you know his first invention was the Difference Engine No. 2 – one of our favorite inventions displayed at IV headquarters?) It was Lovelace’s work with Babbage that made the invention of the Analytical Engine possible.
Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine include the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. She also boldly predicted that future versions of Babbage’s engine could be programmed to conduct scientific research and compose “elaborate and scientific pieces of music.” The idea that computers could be programmed to manipulate symbols and transcend their use as calculators was far ahead of her time. Lovelace’s original vision of the use of computers for both calculation and computation mirrors our reality today – nearly 200 years later.
Lovelace’s display of bravery in expressing a groundbreaking idea is a common characteristic among so many successful inventors throughout history and today. Lovelace was also a bold trailblazer for women inventors, read about other women inventors who have paved the way here.
Last summer a team from Global Good returned to a remote health post in northeastern Ethiopia to observe how one of our products – the Arktek™ – is helping people in the region to access vaccines.Read More
After nearly two decades on Wall Street and five years running a private consulting practice, Kate Sharadin joined IV to lead the Invention Science Fund’s healthcare efforts. Learn more about Kate’s focus on invention that enables our world to become smarter, more livable, more prosperous and better in today’s Staff Spotlight.Read More
We asked the men and women of our Behind the Breakthrough Series – what inspires you? Hear from two interviewees from IV’s Global Good division on how they approach some of the world’s most significant challenges.Read More