A view from Dave Trott: A how needs a what
A view from Dave Trott

A how needs a what

Poet Lord Byron was the original wild and crazy creative.

Famously described as "Mad, bad and dangerous to know".

He had a daughter, Ada.

But he left his wife as soon as Ada was born.

His wife didn’t want Ada to grow up wild and crazy like her father.

So she was taught the opposite of creativity.

She was taught maths, philosophy, science, anything logical.

Consequently, Ada grew up loving logic and machines.

But Ada was still her father’s daughter: a romantic visionary.

In those days, women were only expected to like pretty things.

So a girl who loved maths and machines was a curiosity.

Which is why, at age 17, Ada was introduced to Charles Babbage. 

The man who had just designed the world’s most advanced calculating machine.

It was called the Analytical Engine, and it could calculate numbers to an incredible degree.

Immediately, Ada fell in love with it.

Not just for the numbers, but for the amazing possibilities. 

Italian mathematician Menabrea wrote a paper on it and Ada offered to translate his paper.

But she was frustrated by what she read.

Menabrea didn’t understand the full potential.

Where he saw a calculator, she saw the world’s first computer. 

Even though the name didn’t even exist yet.

She corrected and expanded his text until it was four times as long.

She added an algorithm to calculate a complex sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Ada had just invented computer programming. 

What she wrote is now known to be the world’s first example of computer programming.

She tried to explain the possibilities to Charles Babbage, but even he could only see a numbers machine.

Whereas Ada, a poet’s daughter, saw numbers as the harmony of the universe.

If she could turn beauty into numbers, then the machine could create anything: poetry, music, art. 

The essence was not to think of numbers as mere quantity.

But as symbols: a language that could represent anything.

Many years later, Alan Turing would say Ada Lovelace was his major influence in building the machine that cracked the Enigma code.

He was inspired by her to make the world’s first programmable computer.

Knowledge of technology is fine, but technology is limited by vision.

Ada had the vision to see beyond what everyone else saw.

She saw computers before they even existed.

Charles Babbage invented the machinery that could calculate numbers: the hardware.

Ada invented the concept of numbers as a code that could be used to represent anything: the software.

For real progress, we must have both vision and ability.

Vision is no use without the ability to achieve it.

But ability is no use without the vision of what to do.

The hardware is nothing without the software.

Which is why the US defence department named its computer language after a woman who was born 200 years ago.

They called it Ada.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.