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Ada Lovelace

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 06 March 2008

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century mathematician Ada Lovelace. Deep in the heart of the Pentagon is a network of computers. They control the US military, the most powerful army on the planet, but they are controlled by a programming language called Ada. It’s named after Ada Lovelace, the allegedly hard drinking 19th century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. In her work with Charles Babbage on a steam driven calculating machine called the Difference Engine, Ada understood, perhaps before anyone else, what a computer might truly be. As such the Difference Engine is the spiritual ancestor of the modern computer.

Ada Lovelace has been called many things - the first computer programmer and a prophet of the computer age – but most poetically perhaps by Babbage himself as an ‘enchantress of numbers’.

With Patricia Fara, Senior Tutor at Clare College, Cambridge; Doron Swade, Visiting Professor in the History of Computing at Portsmouth University; John Fuegi, Visiting Professor in Biography at Kingston University.

  • Further Reading

    The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley (Pan Books; New Ed, 2000)

    Ada Augusta Lovelace by Dorothy Stein (MIT Press; Reprint edition, 1987)

    Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: A Selection from the Letters of Lord Byron's Daughter and Her Description of the First Computer (The Pickering Masters) by Betty A. Toole (Ed) – (Pickering & Chatto, 1992)

    The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer by Doron Swade (Little, Brown and Company, 2000)

    Winter, Alison, ‘A Calculus of Suffering: Ada Lovelace and the Bodily Constraints on Women’s Knowledge in Early Victorian England’, in C. Lawrence and S. Shapin, eds., Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (London, 1998), 202-239

    P. Morrison and E. Morrison, eds., Charles Babbage and His Calculating Engines: Selected Writings by Charles Babbage and Others (Dover Publications, 1961)


    Film:

    To Dream Tomorrow (Women of Power series), Directed and Produced by John Fuegi and Jo Francis (Flare Productions, 2003)

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