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Laura’s Word 17 October 2013


What adland can learn from digital’s leading lady

Laura’s Word 17 October 2013

This week’s historical girl crush is Ada Lovelace. Known alternately as the world’s first computer programmer and ‘The Enchantress of Numbers’, she was a 19th century visionary who foretold the all-encompassing role that computers would play in our lives. Tuesday saw the celebration of the fifth annual Ada Lovelace Day and the Lovie Awards – of which she is the eponymous inspiration – announced their list of 2013 winners. But the Countess of Lovelace, who collaborated with Charles Babbage on his quaint punched-card version of Google Glass, is more than just a historical heroine of the digital world. Everyone in adland and digital could do with a little splash of Ada magic, and here’s why:

Keep finding new ways to rebel

As the daughter of one Lord Byron, the flamboyant poet with an appetite for sex and travel, she could have easily coasted into the role of a literary rock chick. But rather than follow the Russell Brand of his day into a well-worn rut of scandal and opium, she decided to become a maths geek.  


Find a wingman…

Ada Lovelace is perhaps best known for her collaborations with mathematician Charles Babbage, with whom she worked on the concept of an ‘analytical engine’, a rudimentary computer. A trusted partner and confidante who’s both eerily similar to you and shockingly different can be a difficult thing to find. Equally frustrating – in the words of every piece of cloying dating advice ever - it’s the sort of meeting of minds that can’t be forced and turns up when you’re least expecting. Ada met Babbage at a party at the age of 17.

… and find yourself a crew.

As well as Babbage, Ada also hung out with Michael Faraday and Charles Dickens.

Don’t stop at the brief

Ada Lovelace was asked to translate an article by an Italian engineer – but in the process of doing so ended up filling in the gaps and jotting down her own supplementary ideas. These ‘Notes’, it transpired, contained the ‘first computer programme’ – which would never have happened if she’d just stuck to conjugating verbs.

Go beyond the obvious

While Lovelace’s partner Babbage was all about the numbers and saw the Analytical Engine as nothing more than a calculator, she was able to see in their invention the beginnings of something that could be used as a platform for music, art, neuroscience and Candy Crush Saga. 

“[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.”

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Ada has been championed by the digital field as a beacon for women in technology and science. With the killer combination of a rock and roll father, mathematical genius, imagination and, if the paintings are to be believed, a pretty sharp sense of style, she is the ideal centrepiece for all sorts of grand narratives. Only some pesky historians are less convinced of her role in early computing and there’s something of debate around the depth of her understanding and impact of her contributions. But as a symbol and a story she’s still a huge inspiration.


Check out the Lovie Awards results here.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 16 Oct 2013 16:37:56 GMT