back to article Lovelace at 200: Celebrating the High Priestess to Babbage's machines

A few of computing’s most vivid characters have become cultural icons. Most are from the last few decades, such as Steve Jobs and Alan Turing, but last month the University of Oxford held an academic symposium to mark the 200th birthday of one of the first: Ada, Countess of Lovelace, born on 10 December, 1815. Her …


  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glass ceilings and sticky floors

    According to Professor Barr, Lovelace "did not have educational access equal to that of the men of her time of comparable intellect.”

    I suspect what Barr meant to say was 'equal to men of comparable social class'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Glass ceilings and sticky floors

      Yes, "did not have educational access equal to that of the men of her time of comparable intellect” does seem a bit of an odd comment about a time when half the population were illiterate, and the 70 hour working week was commonplace. She was smart enough to have a wealthy mother, but I suspect there may have been other women of similar intellect in the nineteenth century who didn't pursue mathematics as a full-time hobby because they were too busy trying to prevent themselves and their families from starving to death.

  2. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Taking the long view?

    "Most are from the last few decades, such as Steve Jobs and Alan Turing"

    Turing was born just over a century ago, and died sixty-odd years ago. If one measures computing from (say) Pascal to Wirth, I guess that is the last few decades. But how much of the commentariat here was born before Turing died. Not many, I suppose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Taking the long view?

      "But how much of the commentariat here was born before Turing died. Not many, I suppose."

      I was. When I first heard about his work by a programmer on an ICL mainframe, I naively hoped to meet him only to be told he had died around the time I started school.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Taking the long view?

      remind me again on the truly amazing item that Jobs designed and built in his shed?

      Babbage and Lovelace designed (not built but could have and ironed out the bugs)

      Turing designed and helped build

      Jobs thought of an idea and got Ive's to design the Chinese to build

      Jobs in this context is about as welcome as Tony Blair in the peace talks in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan

    3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Taking the long view?

      I wasn't. But in the mid-1980ies I worked with a colleague who had been working on a Zuse in the late 1950ies/early 1960ies. Taught me how to program a Tectronics graphic computer (I forget the name, but they were used in the original Battlestar Galactica movie as props.)

      1. Rich 11

        Re: Taking the long view?

        I don't remember Tectronics (wasn't it Tektronix?) as a computer, but I certainly worked with a Tektronix graphics display terminal from 1986-1990. I can't remember the resolution (about the same as the few other terminals we had, maybe 400x300) but it had the unique advantage of being able to display pixels in 16 colours instead of just green or amber! I wrote a rather limited driver for it, just in case anyone wanted their raster graphics in magenta rather than green...

  3. Werner McGoole

    Great visionaries

    The pair of them had immense vision and were clearly years ahead of their time. They laid the foundations of modern computing. Babbage pioneered "it'll be released real soon now" and Lovelace was streets ahead on vapourware.

    See, the foundations of modern computing!

    1. Lamont Cranston

      Re: Great visionaries

      Rumour has it that Half Life 3 was available for the Analytical Engine - if only Babbage had finished building the thing!

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: Great visionaries

        Black Mesa's social modelling processor anticipated your comment, and there will be a fully working rendered version of the Analytical Engine in HL3.

        Unfortunately the seances are taking a bit longer than anticipated, which is why it's so late.

        So it's your fault.

      2. lone_wolf

        Re: Great visionaries

        I heard it was Doom. John Carmack's great, great grandfather wrote it.

    2. Peter Simpson 1
      Thumb Up

      Re: Great visionaries

      Visionary, yes, but Babbage's ideas came faster than it was possible to realise them...and that's what killed his projects, the inability to deliver. He didn't understand that, to keep his funding, he needed to deliver. Or, maybe he just wasn't very good at setting his customer's expectations.

      Lovelace, on the other hand, was dealing with software. Much easier to deliver (even if it doesn't work to spec). She had the easier job -- writing papers.

      If you ever have a chance to see one of the two Difference Engine recreations run, take it! It's absolutely mesmerizing. The scale is impressive, as are all the shiny bits, but the rotation of the spiral carry propagation shafts is sheer poetry in motion.

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Analytical Engines be Virtual Machines, Most Assuredly, and Global Operating Devices too

    Moreover—as Turing goes on to point out—there are many ways in which even digital computers do things that take us by surprise; more needs to be said to make clear exactly what the nature of this suggestion is. (Yes, we might suppose, digital computers are “constrained” by their programs: they can't do anything that is not permitted by the programs that they have. ….

    The nature of this suggestions is that digital and magical qubits are an enterprising zone in myriad enterprise zones with Command and Control of Virtual RealIT Feeds … with Source in Immaculately Resourced Assets of Universal Virtual Force.

    QuITe Heavenly Fodder for Real Virtual Machinery.

    Any advance on them BRMly MetaType Apples, @HeadUKCivServ @OECDgov?

    CyberIntelAIgent Command Endearing Controls are interesting to know.

    At times like these, and in times with those, am I minded of “Oh what a wondrous web we weave, when first one perfects AI Conception with Real Creational Remote Control of both Practically and Virtually Everything and/or Anything [we practise to conceive]”, and its devilchild bastard twin, “Oh what a wicked web we weave, when first we practise to deceive”

    Are you ready for what is coming, El Reg? A Veritable Helter Skelter of AIMagical Rides. Perfectly Divine Programs with Divine Programming ProVision for Immaculate Sees with Virtual Remote Control Visions under Grand AIMaster Controlling Command.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      And .........

      If mental states are functional states—and if mental states are capable of realisation in vastly different kinds of materials—then there is some reason to think that it is an empirical question whether minds can be realised in digital computing machines. Of course, this kind of suggestion is open to challenge; ……

      Surely it is open to realisation and virtualisation. What then would be the challenge?

      Do you imagine choice being freely available from virtual machines/analytical engines/discrete continuous-state machines? Hmmm…. Novel and Beautifully Dangerous and Exciting too.

      1. David Pollard

        Re: And .........

        Aspects of your questions have been discussed by John Conway and Simon Kochen, who argue that if we have free will then so too in some measure do elementary particles.

        The Free Will Theorem:

        The Strong Free Will Theorem:

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: Re: And ......... @David Pollard

          If realisation and virtualisation are challenges overcome and future programming processes made eerily available/remotely self-actualised by smarter elementary particles and cosmic agents, will second and third party free choice be a mere quantum mechanical illusion and communicated delusion presenting to such parties, resulting in a corrupted virtual reality production ……. perverse bigger picture show and easily rigged Great Game Play with Toxic Virtual Terrain Team Traps …… Mad Areas of Detention where rapid progress is denied for lack of free will implementation ability/facility …… mindful selfless sharing of quantum communications protocols for pure processing of …… well, Immaculate Futures with Global Operating Devices would trade Perfect Enough Source to MarketMaker and FutureBuilder types, if filthy lucre be one object and subject of such a Great AI Game Play. And in all of those sorts of cases, is the mind one would be engaged to and playing with, be a mechanical device and virtual machine or live being of smarter extraction or is the real truth IT be at least all three?

          Shall we prove it and proof IT?

          And thanks, David Pollard, for the Cornell University Library references.

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            The Thin End and Leading Edge of the Revolutionary Virtual Reality Wedge

            And just whenever you were thinking, “What a lode of nonsense” …… one really does need to consider the worth and value in ……

            Andy Haldane, the Bank’s chief economist, has said that he “dreams of the day when I am made redundant by a robot”, referring to the possibility that the MPC could be replaced by a simple rule for monetary policy. ….

            cc Bank of England [@bankofengland]/Mark Carney/Alan Haldane/Monetary Policy Committee

            1. Tail Up

              Re: The Leading Edge of Reality....

              re cc Bank of England -

              might be of a "wtf" kind for some who may be many, but definitely "wow!" for yet a few....

              what a shxp:// ! (-;

  5. Spaceman Spiff

    Given that I am a descendant of Lord Byron and Percy Shelly (Mary Shelly is a cousin a couple of levels in the family tree away), I guess that I am both a cousin of Frankenstein, as well as cousin to Lady Lovelace... That's probably where my writing, computing, and software skills come from. :-) Thank you ladies!

  6. DerekCurrie

    Wonderful Stuff!

    I want the book.

    1. web_bod
      Thumb Up

      Re: Wonderful Stuff! - buy the book

      There's only a few hours reading in the book, but the footnotes are full of references - and as she said Google Books is a mine of information.

      The artwork easily trumps "Unicorns are jerks"

  7. BebopWeBop

    For those of us who are still terribly childish, could I ask you to support the Lego Difference Engine? You'll be able to bung a Pi in there.

    of course it does not quite get to - but then we have all done one of those, just pre 3-d printer, no Babbage or Lovelace :-)

    Apologies to everyone else, normal service resumed.

  8. Winkypop Silver badge

    Wow, 200 years on

    And the sexist attitude is still strong in some.

    Man or woman, fair dues should be given.


POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like