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Google honors computing's first developer Ada Lovelace

Babbage's 'Enchantress of numbers' remembered

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Google has started the week with a Google Doodle offering a rather belated acknowledgement of the contribution of computing of Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first theoretical software algorithm for her friend Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.

Lovelace, daughter of mad, bad, and dangerous to know Lord Byron, was a close associate of Babbage, who in 1843 called her his "Enchantress of numbers," and she was a prominent mathematician of her time. Lovelace was fortunate to receive a top-level education in a time when most women were taught to be seen and not heard and her mathematical skills endeared her to Babbage.

In turn, Lovelace was intrigued by the possibilities of Babbage's designs for the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine that were the first mechanical computers ever designed, if not built. Lovelace published a proposed algorithm for the latter engine for tabulating Bernoulli numbers, and also spotted a bug in one of Babbage's own programs.

Of course, it was over a century before Babbage's designs were eventually brought to fruition, and Lovelace never received the recognition she deserved in her lifetime, although the US military did name the ADA programming language in her honor in the 1980s and in 1998 she was awarded a posthumous medal from the British Computer Society.

But she still tops the list of other great underrerated female computing legends, such as Turing Award winners Frances Allen and Barbara Liskov and the late, great Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who gave us the first compiler, helped invent COBOL, and popularized the term "bug" to indicate a code fault.

Even Google is coming to Lovelace's cause late in the game. Monday's Doodle is a response to the 198th anniversary of Lovelace's birth, but it might have been more appropriate to do the image last month on November 27, the 150th anniversary of her death, or on Ada Lovelace Day on October 16 this year.

Nevertheless every little bit helps, and perhaps more people will appreciate that, boyish as it is, IT has been and will always be of interest to both sexes – something too many school systems still don’t recognize. ®

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