Groundbreaking Lovelace Book Dominates UK Auction

Ada_Lovelace_portrait.jpgA rare copy of Ada Lovelace's groundbreaking first computer program turned up at a regional auction house, Moore Allen & Innocent, in Glouchestershire, England, today and sold for £95,000 ($125,000) after an intial estimate of £5,000-6,000 was increased to £40,000-60,000.

  

Bound in burgundy leather with tooled and gilded "Lovelace" on cover, this copy of Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babage Esq. by L F Menabrea of Turin Officer of The Military Engineers, with notes by the translator, who is identified in a handwritten note as Lady Lovelace, also contains extensive reading notes on Lovelace on the flyleaf, and a typed memo attributing the notes to physician William King, a friend and advisor of hers, who published a paper called The Cooperator. (Lovelace also married a different man named William King, strangely enough.)

  

Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, was born on Dec. 10, 1815, in London, England, and was taught math by her mother. Her mother also surrounded her with the best education and tutors and introduced her to scientist Mary Somerville. It was that introduction that led Lovelace to know the work of Charles Babbage at 17, soon after she made her society debut. He showed her a large brass calculator and she became obsessed with it. 

  

Not long after she translated Menabrea's academic paper on Babbage's analytical engine, she added a section that extended the length of the paper by three times. This section is simply titled, "Notes." In "Section G" she published her algorithm, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the engine, which would have worked had it been built. Additionally she mused about the role of computers in society, described how they would be faster than humans at computations, and dismissed the concept of artificial intelligence, explaining, "the Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths." 

  

Lovelace died of uterine cancer at age 36. There is disagreement about the importance of her contribution to science and math, and whether or not her contribution can indeed be considered the first computer program or simply an enhancement to Babbage's work. Recently, she was finally given an obituary by the New York Times in its record-redressing "Overlooked" women of history special section, along with Sylvia Plath and other female luminaries.

  

Image via Wikimedia