The program tells the story of the unusual scientific alliance in 19th-century Britain, between Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852), a young aristocratic lady with a zealous interest in mathematics, and Charles Babbage (1791-1871), an eccentric mathematician, mechanical engineer, philosopher, and inventor. Highly talented, of wealthy background, and ambitious, Babbage wants to move British science, not to mention British society as a whole, forward. One of the imperfections of his time that particularly frustrates him is the high error rate in the calculation of math tables. To remove the human error factor Babbage plans to find a new method that can be used to calculate mechanically. In 1822 he begins with what he calls the Difference Engine, a huge machine to compute values of polynomial functions. Although the attempt at making the Difference Engine eventually crumbles, Babbage starts designing a different, more complex machine — called the Analytical Engine — that can be programmed using punch cards. The development of the Analytical Engine takes an unexpected turn when in 1834 Babbage’s controversial undertaking arouses the interest of a young woman: Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace and the only legitimate daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron.

photograph: The Science Museum, London

In the late 1970s, the US Department of Defense commissioned a major new computer language named “Ada” after the Countess of Lovelace. The American National Standards Institute approved “Ada” as a national all-purpose standard in 1983, the International Organization for Standardization followed suit in 1987. The most current version is “Ada 2005”.

Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation