December 10th: Ada Lovelace!

Today, December 10th, Google Doodles celebrates the birthday of British mathematician and computer scientist Lady Ada Lovelace, born in 1815. She is the fifth woman honored with a Google Doodle in the United States in 2012 — making this the most gender-diverse year in the history of the Doodles. Still, that diversity is sorely lacking: at this point, late in 2012, women have made up only 19%  of the Doodles shown in this country. The brilliant Lady Ada Lovelace is extremely deserving of this honor, and perhaps might inspire the Doodles team to make a stronger commitment to including women in this series.

The Google Doodle celebrating the 197th birthday of Ada Lovelace on December 10th, 2012.

The Google Doodle celebrating the 197th birthday of Ada Lovelace on December 10th, 2012.

Lovelace is best known for her mathematical work following Charles Babbage’s theoretical proposal of an Analytical Engine and for her production of early algorithms that could be processed by such a mechanical computational device. Her notes, explanations, and development of methods for using a computer drove this field forward, as Ada deeply and perceptively understood the proposed analytical engine and the ideas behind it.

Lovelace was also able to predict that computers would be able to do more than complete simple calculations, and would be useful broadly in any fields, including the arts, where concepts could be abstracted and operated upon. This work has earned her recognition as the world’s first computer programmer. The Doodle honoring her shows her contributions to computing and the overhaul in our culture that followed the development of these tools. She also predicted that computers would one day be able to compose music — represented in the Doodle as well. Unfortunately, Lovelace only lived to the age of 36, and her contributions to the field were cut short.

A portrait of Lovelace painted in 1840 by Alfred Edward Chalon.

A portrait of Lovelace painted in 1840 by Alfred Edward Chalon.

Lovelace’s legacy also includes her widespread fame in the computing community, plus the annual celebration of Ada Lovelace Day and the Ada Initiative. These efforts focus on increasing the participation of and opportunities for women in technology, science, engineering, and mathematics. As we’ve shown here at Speaking Up, these efforts are needed for women’s accomplishments and talents to get the attention they deserve.

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