Ada Lovelace


1843 manuscript on mathematical possibilities of Charles Babbage's proposed

"Analytical Engine" -- a plan for a digital computer. 


1)     Recovered feminist ancestor -- over-estimates achievements; obscures her thinking. 

2)     Appropriated by the military -- "Ada" is a computer language developed specifically for the defense industry

3)     Her presence in computer science texts serves “equal opportunities” rhetoric.


Lovelace's mother worried: inheritance of notorious sexual proclivities of her father, Lord Byron.


Her childhood: strictly prescribed educational activities, forced to lie still with bags over


Rebellion via attempted elopement fails, agrees to mathematical instruction as a cure for her sinful impulses.


Meets Babbage’s “Silver Lady;” he gets PR for $$ and she gets social life.


Excitement and opium result in description in terms of magical imagery:

Mechanisms of symbol manipulation were "mathematical sprites,"

Babbage was advised to allow himself to be "unresistingly bewitched" by

"the High Priestess of Baggage's Engine." 


Babbage writes most of the programming except recursive program ("a cycle of a cycle") for calculating Bernoulli numbers.  But his account is the opposite.


Why the falsehood? Perhaps due to relation of recursion and sexual reproduction. From feminist perspective, also interesting that she makes the connection to weaving (Campbell-Kelly pg 57).


Lovelace's famous philosophical statement on the inability of computers to produce creative thought: reassurance about job security to the upper class.


Later interest in biology and medicine: duplicate the mathematical studies of electrical circuits, model flow of "animal magnetism" in biological tissue. Mesmerism, occult, and health connections.  


Ada’s friend John Crosse: inspired her interests in both science and gambling. Movie “Conceiving Ada” introduces Crosse (played by John Perry Barlow) as a cryptographer, and claims that she and Crosse were attempting to use mathematical models in their gambling.