International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the vast achievements of women in all spheres of life and to take stock of where we are as we strive to achieve true fairness and gender parity. These days, the list of successful women on whose experiences and successes we can draw is endless, whether it’s politicians, athletes, business leaders or lawyers. From Emmeline Pankhurst to Theresa May, Karen Brady to Baroness Hale, strong female role models and pioneers abound. With that in mind, I thought I’d spend the next few minutes focusing on one of my own personal heroines.
Today, we take technology for granted. You’re probably reading this on your tablet or listening via some such other mobile device as you jog effortlessly through an idyllic leafy suburb. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckberg and Bill Gates be praised. But spare a thought as your fit-bit smashes through that all-important 10,000 steps-a-day. This 21st century tech would not be possible without a certain young, precocious mathematician? “Yes, yes we know!” I hear you smugly retort: Alan Turin. No. You’ll have to go back a little further than that. Back to the 1800s in fact long before the Manchester Baby was even dreamt of.
Lord Byron has a lot to answer for. Not only did the rock-and-roll romantic poet shake polite London society to its core, but he was also the father to one of the most incredible women in computing history. Whilst Charles Babbage is often identified as the creator of the first mechanical computer in 1822, it was Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace who saw and understood the machine’s true potential and envisioned the dawn of the computer age. It was she who wrote the first algorithm and, in many ways, is regarded as the first ever computer programmer.
A free-spirited young tearaway, it was thought that mathematics would be the perfect discipline to help focus her rebellious energy. Not simply a keen technologist, Ada was also a devoted scientist and astronomer. In an age dominated by patriarchy, she remained irrepressible and made some of the greatest contributions which helped evolve our technology-dependant world of today.
So, take a break from block chain when you have a minute. Climb out of the data lake and pick up a copy of “In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter: Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace” (2018) by Miranda Seymour (no relation). It’s well worth a read.
Tragically, like her famous father, Ada’s genius was cut short and she died at a painfully young thirty-six. Her legacy, however, is as long-lasting as it is ubiquitous.