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Subject:
From:
"Ann S. Brandon" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Ann S. Brandon
Date:
Fri, 2 Mar 2001 13:41:11 -0500
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Clyde Roby wrote:
>
> Check out http://www.newyorker.com/THE_CRITICS/BOOKS/
>
> Another myth debunked?

Benjamin Woolley's "The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's
Daughter" certainly dispels the myth that Ada was a mathematician, but I
am not sure she should therefore be equated with Lisa-Marie Presley.

I think Woolley sets up a straw woman and knocks her down. Those who
have called Ada of Lovelace the first computer programmer have always
been wrong. Either Joseph-Marie Jacquard or Babbage can claim that
title.

Ada's historical claim is as the first published computer programmer.
After its May 1999 profile on Ada, I wrote a letter to "Scientific
American" taking the authors to task for simply calling her a
"prophetess." Though the magazine did not publish my letter, they did
write "first published computer programmer" in the caption under her
portrait that appeared in the letters column, so they must have agreed
with me.

Ada was also the first to foretell the computer's future activities in
drawing and creating music. Yet Woolley and The New Yorker's reviewer,
Jim Holt, instead emphasize that she failed to foretell artificial
intelligence. She also didn't foretell how miserably computers predict
the weather, but neither did all the fathers and mothers of the modern
computer age.

Babbage's asking Ada to write the paper, according to Woolley, is
comparable to "nominating Lisa-Marie Presley to annotate a study of
quantum computation." This is a tabloid headline, not research. Ada's
reputation was one of being educated in math, whereas Lisa-Marie is
educated in buying clothes. That Babbage did most of the math for Ada in
the paper is not unheard of in scientific circles. After all, Lise
Meitner did all the math for Otto Hahn's Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Should we compare him to Elvis?

Thanks, Clyde, for bringing this to our attention, and thank your
co-worker too.

Ann Brandon

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