A blog about the famous Victorian poet, designer, and Socialist, William Morris.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ada Lovelace: Weaving Algebraic Patterns

On this day in 1815, Augusta Ada Byron, the future Ada Lovelace, was born to Lord Byron and Lady Noel Byron. The marriage broke down in the first few months of Ada's life, so she never met her famous father. As she grew, her intellect became obvious, and her private education taught her more math and science than was available to most of her female contemporaries.

In 1834, the year that Morris was born, Ada heard Charles Babbage lecture on the “Difference Engine,” which he'd invented, but hadn't yet built. (Although he never managed to build it, this “difference engine” was the first computer.) Ada was fascinated, and began a correspondence with Babbage. During her short but bright mathematical career, she worked and corresponded with Babbage, and wrote what's considered to be the world's first computer program, making her the world's first computer programmer.

One computing innovation that preceded the Difference Engine—or Babbage's other computer, the “Analytical Engine”—was the humble Jacquard Loom. Although it was not a computer, it could receive and execute complex commands in the form of punch cards. Morris, heralded as the father of the Arts & Crafts Movement, felt conflicted about the Jacquard loom and machinery in general, but did use the programmable loom in his silk-weaving operations.

When Ada tragically died of cancer in 1852, she was 36. Morris was just a teenager at the time, preparing to go to Oxford. The tiny overlap in their lives and work was summed up unwittingly by Ada: “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

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