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Happy Birthday To Ada Lovelace, the First Computer Programmer

Unknown Lamer posted about a year and a half ago | from the before-her-time dept.

Programming 60

First time accepted submitter MrBeeudoublez writes "Honored by a Google Doodle, Ada Lovelace is the first computer programmer. From the article: 'Ada's life as a member of British society (first as the daughter of Lord Byron, and later as the wife of the Count of Lovelace), brought her into contact with Charles Babbage, whose concepts for mechanical calculating machines (early computers) she took a great interest in. Ultimately, her work on explaining Babbage's design for the Analytical Engine resulted in her being credited as the first true computer programmer in history, even if the computer she programmed for was not actually built until 2002.'"

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10yrs later (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42248870)

lurking for 10yrs, finally get chance to do FP? because of /. snafu?

Re:10yrs later (1)

isorox (205688) | about a year and a half ago | (#42248904)

lurking for 10yrs, finally get chance to do FP? because of /. snafu?

You know, I think that's the first time Anonymous Coward has ever got first post!

Re:10yrs later (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year and a half ago | (#42248998)

lurking for 10yrs, finally get chance to do FP?

Getting first post looks a lot cooler if you don't hedge your bets with a question mark. Or if you have something interesting to say.

Re:10yrs later (1)

flyneye (84093) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249292)

It's O.K. to say "Fuzzy Poodle", this is /., we expect the quirky. Did someone @ /. leave the lock off your gimp trunk?

The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42248902)

According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , the ancient Greek mathematician invented "a programmable cart that was powered by a falling weight. The "program" consisted of strings wrapped around the drive axle."

This doesn't diminish Ada Lovelace's contributions at all, btw.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (-1, Flamebait)

flyneye (84093) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249268)

Hey, the Obama administration would reward Ford, Chrysler or GM for doing the same thing, as being "green tech". Probably be a big IP battle over it too.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (5, Interesting)

MaxToTheMax (1389399) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249480)

Perhaps this *will* diminish Ada's contributions: http://www.answers.com/topic/ada-lovelace#Controversy_over_extent_of_contributions [answers.com] Choice quote: "Not only is there no evidence that Ada ever prepared a program for the Analytical Engine but her correspondence with Babbage shows that she did not have the knowledge to do so." The depressing lack of female role models in CS is a real problem, but revisionist history is not a valid solution.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (5, Informative)

91degrees (207121) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249810)

The depressing lack of female role models in CS is a real problem, but revisionist history is not a valid solution.

Well, there's certainly a shortage, but I don't think anyone can deny Rear Admiral Grace Hopper's [wikipedia.org] contributions to software engineering. Her contributions had a direct influence on how programming languages evolved.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (3, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#42250266)

Her contributions had a direct influence on how programming languages evolved.

Hopper practically invented programming languages. Before her, all programming was done in machine code.

In 1952 she had an operational compiler. "Nobody believed that," she said. "I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic."[

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251207)

Hopper practically invented programming languages.

Except that she didn't. Zuse envisioned Plankalkül, only he didn't technical means at that time to make it work. But I think he's a strong candidate for being the inventor of the notion of a formal, high-level, algebraic language for digital computer programming.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251813)

One huge difference.... Hopper actually wrote COBOL and put the concepts into practice by doing it.

Sure, you could read the notes of some of the early theoreticians who played with the idea of computing theory line Von Neumann and Turing, but I give more cred to those who actually did the work.

Ada Lovelace did precede the work by Konrad Zuse by nearly a century. Noting against Zuse, as he certainly did a whole lot to advance computing in the 20th century as well. Sometimes you need to go in baby steps until something actually happens, which is simply how scientific progress is made at all. If you've done something useful in this world with your life, it is that you've been able to explore the frontiers of human knowledge and perhaps contribute a little bit more knowledge to go just a little bit further.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42252113)

One huge difference.... Hopper actually wrote COBOL and put the concepts into practice by doing it.

Yes, and COBOL already came after FORTRAN and LISP, the latter of which was much more powerful that COBOL, BTW, so how is that relevant to this?

Sure, you could read the notes of some of the early theoreticians who played with the idea of computing theory line Von Neumann and Turing, but I give more cred to those who actually did the work.

Except that was "the actual work". We don't celebrate Pythagoras for discovering the Pythagorean theorem, nor do we non-celebrate him for not having a pocket calculator to use it routinely in practice (who wants to calculate all those pesky square roots by hand?). We celebrate him for proving that it works. This is computer science, not business or politics. Or do you want to dismiss Dijkstra's work just because he didn't even have a computer and did his work on paper?

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (2)

Teancum (67324) | about a year and a half ago | (#42253597)

On the contrary. Most incredible ideas are built upon the ideas of others that have contributed in the past. Isaac Newton would not have been able to write Principia Mathematica or even Optics without involving the work of a great many people before him, and Albert Einstein could not have conceived of General Relativity without having studied the work of Newton and other great physicists of the past.

The same thing is certainly true of the mathematicians who participated in the development of mechanical computational theory either. It is said that we stand upon the shoulders of giants, and I don't think Grace Hopper would have disputed that either.

The problem here is trying to single somebody out as "the discoverer" or "founder" when in fact there were many before with amazing ideas, and there will be many in the future who will continue to advance human knowledge into the future.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42258765)

Hopper's first compiler was A-0 not COBOL, and it predates FORTRAN by over 18 person years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_compiler_writing

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#42260289)

Except that she didn't. Zuse envisioned Plankalkül

So? Da Vinci not only envisioned, but drew plans of, airplanes. But I don't see anyone crediting him with their invention. Because, you see, having a notion that something can be done is not the same as doing it. To be credited with inventing something, you have to actually make that something exist.

Hopper invented it. Zuse did not.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

tehcyder (746570) | about a year and a half ago | (#42250723)

LOL she was responsible for COBOL. I thought we hated COBOL here?

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (3, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251245)

She was responsible for a lot more than that. She found the first computer bug, when she "...traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay. The bug was carefully removed and taped to a daily log book. Since then, whenever a computer has a problem, it's referred to as a bug." Here it is [navy.mil] .

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

oursland (1898514) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256383)

The term "bug" predated this instance as well as digital computers by a large margin.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256387)

Really? Where did it originate?

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

oursland (1898514) | about a year and a half ago | (#42258025)

According to Wikipedia, Thomas Edison used the term "bug" with the same meaning in 1878. [1] [wikipedia.org]

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (3, Funny)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42258059)

Fascinating. No doubt he stole the term from Tesla ;)

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251869)

The problem isn't COBOL by itself. The problem is that COBOL is seen by some as the last and greatest language that has ever been invented and that nothing else could improve upon it other than minor refinements of the language. That is what gives us crazy junk like object-oriented COBOL [wikipedia.org] .

Rethinking computer programming language design has given us a multitude of languages and conceptual models that we can apply to software design and substantially improve the quality of the software being produced. I would be really curious about what Grace Hopper would think of some even higher abstraction levels like Scratch [mit.edu] . No single programming language is best for everything, but some are better at accomplishing key tasks over others.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | about a year and a half ago | (#42274369)

And, the sudden illumination came.

Cobol, ALWAYS SHOUTING, overly verbose, precise to the point of inflexibility, oriented towards commercial and financial application.

COBOL COULD ONLY HAVE ORIGINATED FROM THE MIND OF A WOMAN.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42249996)

That quote is the revisionist history.

"I then suggested that she add some notes to Menabrea’s memoir, an idea which was immediately adopted. We discussed together the various illustrations that might be introduced: I suggested several but the selection was entirely her own. So also was the algebraic working out of the different problems, except, indeed, that relating to the numbers of Bernoulli, which I had offered to do to save Lady Lovelace the trouble. This she sent back to me for an amendment, having detected a grave mistake which I had made in the process." - Charles Babbage

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about a year and a half ago | (#42250038)

If you read her Wikipedia article, there was evidence that she has had affairs while married. It is possible that she was screwing Babbage and he covered for her by claiming she was working with him.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (2)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year and a half ago | (#42250977)

If you read her Wikipedia article, there was evidence that she has had affairs while married. It is possible that she was screwing Babbage and he covered for her by claiming she was working with him.

She wrote a Wikipedia article?

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (3, Interesting)

cusco (717999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251017)

In Victorian society virtually everyone had affairs, you were considered marginally odd if you didn't. A lot of them were cheating with members of their same sex, but sex is still sex.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42250176)

The depressing lack of female role models in CS is a real problem, but revisionist history is not a valid solution.

CS is so full of revisionist history of figures who didn't actually do what they are widely believed to have done... that one more can hardly hurt.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42250443)

Grace hopper doesn't do it for you?

Naval Numerical Nuke Nerds (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year and a half ago | (#42252513)

Hopper & Rickhover should have hooked up and had in vitro babies (don't want to keep them away from work too long...). Lots and lots of ubernerd babies.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251215)

My architecture textbook summarized the issue like this: "Someone had to be the most overrated person in computer science." As someone else in this thread mentioned, Grace Hopper is a much more impressive example of a computer scientist hero. In any case, calling Ada the first programmer is definitely silly, since Babbage clearly wrote programs for his machine before she did.

I wouldn't blame some 'feminist conspiracy' for Ada's overratedness, either. It totally falls to lonely computer scientists wishing there were more women in the field, and being grateful for the ones we've had! :)

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (4, Interesting)

wall0159 (881759) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255287)

I'm not so sure about this.
From "The Information", by Gleik:
Her exposition took the form of notes lettered A through G, extending to nearly three times the length of Menabrea’s essay. They offered a vision of the future more general and more prescient than any expressed by Babbage himself. How general? The engine did not just calculate; it performed operations, she said, defining an operation as “any process which alters the mutual relation of two or more things,” and declaring: “This is the most general definition, and would include all subjects in the universe.” The science of operations, as she conceived it,
"is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value; just as logic has its own peculiar truth and value, independently of the subjects to which we may apply its reasonings and processes. One main reason why the separate nature of the science of operations has been little felt, and in general little dwelt on, is the shifting meaning of many of the symbols used."

Symbols and meaning: she was emphatically not speaking of mathematics alone. The engine “might act upon other things besides number.” Babbage had inscribed numerals on those thousands of dials, but their working could represent symbols more abstractly. The engine might process any meaningful relationships. It might manipulate language. It might create music. “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.”

It had been an engine of numbers; now it became an engine of information. A.A.L. perceived that more distinctly and more imaginatively than Babbage himself. She explained his prospective, notional, virtual creation as though it already existed:
"The Analytical Engine does not occupy common ground with mere 'calculating machines'. It holds a position wholly its own. A new, a vast, and a powerful language is developed in which to wield its truths so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible. Thus not only the mental and the material, but the theoretical and the practical in the mathematical world, are brought into more intimate and effective connexion with each other."

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (4, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249536)

I think we have to differentiate between a purely sequential program and one that can make decisions. For example in Lovelace's time automatic looms that were programmed with reels of punched paper existed, but they could only produce a fixed pattern from start to finish.

Such looms, along with mechanical pianos, mechanical dolls and Hero's cart are not computers. They are fixed function and their programs cannot respond to inputs. Lovelace was the first computer programmer.

Props to Hero for inventing the vending machine though.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42249978)

I think we have to differentiate between a purely sequential program and one that can make decisions

Then Babbage is the first recorded computer programmer.

Lovelace is an inspirational woman but lying about her only serves to cover up the cultural inequities of the sexes.

Re:The first programmer was Hero of Alexandria (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42250385)

Props to Hero for inventing the vending machine though.

Indeed. In the end, this probably had a much greater influence on the eventual course of software development.

Can you imagine the productivity hit if coders had to stop what they were doing for fifteen minutes and run down to the grocery store to get a caffeine boost?

Did it work? (2)

Rsriram (51832) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249278)

The program she wrote but could not test. Did it work in 2002?

Re:Did it work? (2, Funny)

Lussarn (105276) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249372)

Yeah, it did. Unfortunaley Apple rejected it, apparently the "No competition" clause.

A particularly sloppy summary (5, Informative)

ngibbins (88512) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249520)

Lovelace's contribution lay in her translation and annotation of Menabrea's description of the Analytical Engine, for which she wrote a short program. Like the Difference Engines, the Analytical Engine was not built during Babbage's (or Lovelace's) lifetime. Unlike the Difference Engine, the Analytical Engine has never been built; the "computer [...] not actually built until 2002" was the Difference Engine No.2, designed by Babbage in the late 1840s, which is a calculator and not a computer. The date of 2002 is also misleading, and refers to the completion of the printer for the DE No.2 (in 2000) that was built by Doron Swade's group at the Science Museum in London between 1989 and 1991. Furthermore, her husband was not the "Count of Lovelace", but rather the 1st Earl of Lovelace (formerly Lord King, Baron of Ockham, and then Viscount Ockham). 'Count' is not a British title of peerage; her title of countess was therefore the result of her marriage to an earl.

Always found it funny (5, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year and a half ago | (#42249646)

The daughter of the world's leading romanticist becomes the world's first nerd.

Re:Always found it funny (3, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#42250627)

World's first nerd? Hardly. In the first place, the word "nerd" didn't exist until 1954 when Dr. Suess coined it in "If I Ran The Zoo".

Second, you don't consider Newton to be a nerd? How about the guy who invented the wheel or agriculture or tamed fire? Those people were all nerds.

Re:Always found it funny (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251005)

World's first nerd? Hardly. In the first place, the word "nerd" didn't exist until 1954 when Dr. Suess coined it in "If I Ran The Zoo".

Second, you don't consider Newton to be a nerd? How about the guy who invented the wheel or agriculture or tamed fire? Those people were all nerds.

One of them was a wheel.

Re:Always found it funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42251717)

Rumor had it that she was Babbage's mistress. Which started the tradition that the hardware guys are screwing the programmers!

See, that ain't new.

Re:Always found it funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42252821)

If you read Ada Lovelace's view of her work, she took a romantic view it, thinking it comparable to her father's work.

Re:Always found it funny (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | about a year and a half ago | (#42253509)

>The daughter of the world's leading romanticist becomes the world's first nerd.

Which is why I named my daughter Ada!

Except backwards, I guess.

Overstated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42249834)

I know we need more female role models in computer science. However, I'm of the opinion that Ada really isn't deserving of being one. The only evidence of her involvement in the Babbage project is anecdotal other than a couple of notes that were written. She speculated that the computer could be used for more than just math. Her demonstrating that it could be so seems to be more myth than reality.

I'm all for more female role models. I am against revisionist history.

Re:Overstated (1)

Aardpig (622459) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251109)

Check your privilege, cis scum!

Re:Overstated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42251417)

Care to elaborate on your comment, or is that the best you can do?

Re:Overstated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42251749)

I have read his last thirty comments or so, and I can assure you that his post is the best he can do. He isn't very intelligent and really doesn't go beyond a "witty" one liner in most of his quotes. He thinks he is more clever than he really is.

Lovelace, Oral? in consecutive stories? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42250949)

Am I the only one to notice a story about something oral followed by a reference to Lovelace? Obviously I need to get out more.

moment of silence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42251667)

I'd like to take a moment of silence for how much I hate Ada. To be honest, it is not the language that is that bad but the fail of a community.

Summary of Ada's work and film (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251955)

For those able to get into the IEEE paywall [ieee.org] , there is a great summary of Ada's work in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. See "Lovelace & Babbage and the Creation of the 1843 ‘Notes'" by John Fuegi and Jo Francisin the Annals journal of October–December 2003. /. 'ers may also enjoy the hollywoodized film version of her life (+ a little sci-fi) in the film Conceiving Ada.

Ada is my cat. (1)

Lord Byron II (671689) | about a year and a half ago | (#42252339)

I kinda have a thing for the Byron's.

Re:Ada is my cat. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254609)

for the Byron's what?

Re:Ada is my cat. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255615)

The Byron's grocer by the look of it.

ADA: Programming Language, and the irony thereof. (1)

vhfer (643140) | about a year and a half ago | (#42253925)

A programming language created for the Department of Defense and used there from 1977 to 1983 was named Ada, in honor of Lady Babbage.

Babbage's Analytical Engine was never completed, right? Having those custom made castings and machined parts got really expensive.

Does anyone else find it ironic that the chosen language of the US DOD was named for the first programming project to go over-budget and behind schedule?

Not a programmer because did not have computer (1)

DavidHumus (725117) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254031)

Whatever Ada Lovelace's contributions were, she was not a programmer: programmers write programs to run on actual machines. The actual implementation is the hard part where all the nitty-gritty gets done. At best, she was a systems analyst.

And her first program printed out this line... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254367)

"La, sirrah, I offer salutations to all persons at present situate on this globe..."

Pop Culture (1)

trevc (1471197) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254549)

Didn't she have a sister called Linda?

Latency!!! (1)

Rudisaurus (675580) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254693)

I learned to program in FORTRAN on a time-shared Multics system with punched-card input and a printer operator behind a wall of cubbyholes to return me the compiler's verdict and my output. At times of system backlog (CS grad students monopolizing the system), I sometimes had to wait for hours to see the results of my efforts.

HOWEVER ... Ada Lovelace wrote her program in 1843 [wikipedia.org] and it was only actually compiled and tested in 2002 [wikipedia.org] , which makes for a latency of 159 years, making my own waits pale in comparison. I believe this must be some kind of record.

PC BS if there ever was (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255533)

You can read that several ways - all are accurate.

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