It’s Ada Lovelace day – and we should all know more about this amazing woman

Victoria Maclennan
October 8, 2019

Earlier this year in a Christchurch auditorium packed with girls, their mothers, fathers and brothers – I learned just what a big deal Ada Lovelace was from the live performance show ADA ADA ADA. And WOW what a show it was. Employing the power of a programmable LED dress, engaging the young audience in manually executing compute instructions and reading from Ada’s own diaries, Zoë Philpott brought Ada Lovelace and her inventions to life before our eyes.

Some of the amazing things I learned about Ada Lovelace during the show were:

  • She was written out of history for over 100 years
  • Her obsession with mathematics, and then the possibilities of computing, were stemmed from her mothers concern she would turn into a dreamer and author like her father, so she was enrolled in mathematics tuition at the age of 4 (very unusual for women of the time)
  • Her father was Lord Byron. Ada and her father both died at the age of 36
  • She was addicted to gambling and inventing mathematical systems to beat the house

What I knew about her before the show was the familiar story – she is widely considered the first computer programmer after she wrote and published the first computer programme in 1843, designed to run on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her programme was designed to calculate rather complicated numbers – Bernoulli numbers. She also conceived of the vast possibilities for computers far beyond the thinking of the time which was limited to calculating / crunching numbers. I had also read she designed a flying machine as a child.

My interest in Ada Lovelace sparked when one of her origional books sold for nearly £100,000 last year. At around the same time the team from learned about the ADA ADA ADA show and became determined to bring Zoë and the LED programmable dress out to NZ. I am thrilled they did, we took the show to small towns in Aotearoa and engaged hundreds of girls in the possibilities of STEM.

Women who have been written out of history need protection so it is fantastic we now recognise and celebrate the incredible brain, vision and capability of Ada Lovelace, who wrote but never had the opportunity to test her programmes. I love that we are celebrating her achievements today 156 years later.

Importantly you can also check out the dress here, it’s quite fantastic hearing the gasps of a young audience as it ignited their imaginations – a priceless experience. Vic

Victoria spends much of her time focusing on Digital Inclusion, Digital Literacy and Digital Rights.  

You can read her OptimalBI blogs here, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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