‘What Would Ada Say?’

Knowing about Ada Lovelace’s “poetical science” might have kept me in tech — and her integrated, big-picture perspective could draw more girls to math today.

In 1828, when Ada Lovelace was 12, she wrote and illustrated Flyology, a guide to self-propelled human flight. At 27, she devised the first algorithm meant to be executed by a machine and predicted that same device might one day execute more abstract operations — might even compose music.

School kids learn about this Ada, the world’s first computer programmer and tech visionary. But Ada was much more than that. She was at her core a philosopher who viewed mathematics as an interpretative lens. She married the analytical with the creative in what she called “poetical science,” which fostered innovation and allowed a big-picture perspective.

Math, Ada wrote, is “the language through which alone we can adequately express the great facts of the natural world.” She sensed oneness in human existence: “The intellectual, the moral, the religious seem to me all naturally bound up … in one great and harmonious whole.”

Ada’s integrated, non-dichotomous view of the world is at least as important as what she did. I wish I’d understood Ada better in the 80s when I was a math major trying to find my way, a girl hungry for inspiration and perspective. Even more, I wish girls knew more about Ada’s poetical science today.

Ada loved math in spite of its being all but forced on her by her mother to offset what she saw as excessive imagination and instability in Ada’s father, the poet Lord Byron. After her divorce from Byron, Ada’s mother imposed on her a program of home schooling that emphasized logic and reason.

But it was —> Read More