Google has revealed its latest homepage Doodle, celebrating the December 10th birth of Ada Lovelace, widely known as the world’s first computer programmer. Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on his mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine, and is credited with conceptualizing the machine’s potential for crunching not only pure numbers, but anything the behavior of which could be defined as algorithms and understood by the complex contraption.
Lovelace’s interest in the Analytical Engine began at a young age, and she spent some months translating an Italian article on its capabilities between 1842 and 1843. Her notes accompanying the translation described a system – later decided to represent the world’s first computer program – of computing Bernoulli numbers, despite the Engine itself not being constructed.
The second breakthrough Lovelace is credited with is in recognizing the machine’s potential beyond mathematics. Instead, she suggested, it could be coaxed into creating music or other forms of output, if the fundamental inputs were encoded in a way that sufficiently allowed the Engine to comprehend them:
“[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” Ada Lovelace
Lovelace – born Augusta Ada Byron, and the only legitimate child of the famous poet – died age 36 from uterine cancer. There’s more on Lovelace at Wikipedia, and a browser-based version of the Analytical Engine to play with here.