Ada Lovelace, culture and computing

Last month, I attended some of Oxford University’s Ada Lovelace symposium, celebrating her 200th anniversary. The Register has just published my article on this, focusing on her cultural impact.

It was fascinating to hear that Lovelace had considered computing’s cultural impact, such as idea that machines could generate music. But it’s only since the 1970s that she has become a cultural figure herself, particularly in fiction.

Someone in the comments asked if Ada Lovelace would be remembered if she was a he. I think yes (Babbage is, and their work is tied closely together) but it is true that there are a number of factors that makes her story particularly compelling. Gender is one, sure, but so is her Romantic story, her writing style, her gambling – multiplied by the fact she died young. The last always encourages people to dream about what else someone might have done.

Ada Lovelace invents Twitter

Sydney Padua, whose Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage has helped kindle new interest in Lovelace – a brief extract above – helps show this. Her initial cartoon on Babbage and Lovelace ends by pushing aside her death, as “a terrible ending”. In her book, Padua has done the same with Jane Austen: she lives to the age of 95 (rather than 41 in reality) writing many novels and making a fortune.

Incidentally, it’s a demonstration of the cultural depth of The Register that there are now 27 articles mentioning Jane Austen (even if I’m responsible for the last two).

The full article on the Ada Lovelace symposium is here.