Ada Lovelace – The Enchantress of Number or the most Overrated Figure in the History of Computing?

Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815 to 1852), also known as Ada Lovelace, was the only legitimate daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Raised by her mother she was given private instruction in mathematics and sciences, When she was 17 she met Charles Babbage at a party and became interested in his work on The Analytical Engine, At the suggestion of Charles Wheatstone she translated a French description of the Analytical Engine “Notions sur la machine analytique” by the Italian Engineer Luigi Menabrea. This document was based on some lectures Babbage had delivered in Turin some years earlier. After reading Ada’s translation Babbage suggested she add some notes of her own since she was “intimately acquainted” with the subject. This she did and published her Sketch of the Analytical Engine in 1843.

It was Babbage who called Ada the “Enchantress of Number” although he was probably talking about Mathematics in general or even his own Analytical Engine. There is considerable disagreement about her capabilities and achievements, some believe she was a genius and the first programmer while others believe she was nothing of the sort. Like many, I would like to believe the former but can only find convincing evidence for the latter.

While other visitors gazed at the working of this beautiful instrument with the sort of expression, and I dare say the sort of feeling, that some savages are said to have shown on first seeing a looking-glass or hearing a gun – if, indeed, they had as strong an idea of its marvellousness – Miss Byron, young as she was, understood its working, and saw the great beauty of the invention.

Sophia De Morgan – Wife of Ada’s mathematics tutor

Quote taken from The Difference Engine. Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer by Doron Swade

There is one subject ancillary to Babbage on which far too much has been written, and that is the contributions of Ada Lovelace. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that Babbage wrote the “Notes” to Menabrea’s paper, but for reasons of his own encouraged the illusion in the minds of Ada and the public that they were authored by her. It is no exaggeration to say that she was a manic depressive with the most amazing delusions about her own talents, and a rather shallow understanding of both Charles Babbage and the Analytical Engine…To me, this familiar material [Ada's correspondence with Babbage] seems to make obvious once again that Ada was as mad as a hatter, and contributed little more to the “Notes” than trouble… I will retain an open mind on whether Ada was crazy because of her substance abuse… or despite it. I hope nobody feels compelled to write another book on the subject. But, then, I guess someone has to be the most overrated figure in the history of computing

Bruce Collier – Former Assistant Dean Harvard College and Babbage Historian

Quote taken from The Difference Engine. Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer by Doron Swade

Ouch!

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