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Charles Babbage & Ada Lovelace

Apr 27, 2021
Science & Technology
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23
minutes
Technology
The Victorian Era
Computing
Entrepreneurship
Inventions

They were known as the Father of Modern Computing and the Mother of Computer Programming, yet they were born over 200 years ago.

Discover the fascinating story of these two British technology pioneers, and learn about the amazing legacy they left behind them.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.

[00:00:31] It is a fascinating story with many appetising ingredients: innovation, rivalry, eccentric genius, failure, obsession, invention, technology, creative vision, mathematics, poetry and family sadness. 

[00:00:48] It is certainly inspiring, and the subjects of today’s episode were some of the most curious minds in history.

[00:00:57] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get stuck in right away.

[00:01:04] The two people who are at the heart of our story have often been described as the Father of Computing and the Mother of Computer programming respectively; they are Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. 

[00:01:18] Babbage was born in 1791, and Lovelace in 1815, there was a 24 year age difference between the pair.

[00:01:28] They were both influential figures in British society during the 19th century, but in so many ways, as is often the case with people of genius, their true impact and influence only really became apparent at least a century after their deaths, in 1871 for Babbage, and in 1852 for Lovelace.

[00:01:53] So, this is a tale of brilliant innovation, thwarted genius and bold ambitions only partially achieved. 

[00:02:03] I think it is especially interesting and relevant to describe the lives of these two brilliant technology pioneers because their bold thinking and experimentation may well have laid the foundations for that vital piece of technology which you will be listening to this episode on - a computer, whether that’s a computer in a mobile phone or in a laptop or tablet.

[00:02:29] Yes, Lovelace and Babbage, in different ways, invented the computer, or at least, conceptualised the technology that computers would be built on.

[00:02:41] I think there is one other additional reason to explore their lives and influence: there is something reassuringly familiar and indeed timeless about the fights, rivalries, aspirations, dreams, failings and relationships that we will encounter in this story.

[00:03:01] Let me set the scene as best I can. 

[00:03:05] The world of early 19th century British society that they were born into was a stimulating one, with Britain industrialising ahead of any other country and at great speed, as you will have heard about in the episode on The Industrial Revolution. 

[00:03:21] It was also a world where people were obsessed with engineering and technology. 

[00:03:27] It must have been a very exciting place and time, although somewhat bewildering, confusing, because of the pace of change.

[00:03:36] Both our protagonists, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, were born into very wealthy families. 

[00:03:44] They both had problematic family lives, so although they were privileged financially, they did not have stable, emotional and loving family lives.

[00:03:56] Charles had a poor relationship with his banker father; although this was no longer a factor after his father died, leaving him a large fortune, a large amount of money in inheritance.

[00:04:08] This enabled him to pursue his many interests without worrying about needing an income through work - or a normal salary. 

[00:04:17] He could pursue his many enthusiasms at will.

[00:04:21] Ada had about the most exotic and notorious family background that you could have. 

[00:04:28] She was the only legitimate child of the celebrated and notorious poet, Lord Byron. 

[00:04:35] Byron was described famously as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. 

[00:04:41] He was from his early twenties one of the most famous people in the country, with many of the characteristics of the most notorious of today’s rock stars. 

[00:04:51] Famously, he had a pet bear, he would drink from a human skull, and had countless affairs with men and women alike.

[00:05:03] He was the complete opposite of Ada’s mother, a lady called Annabella, who was precise, methodical, and a scientist at heart.

[00:05:13] He called her the “Princess of Parallelograms”, and she referred to his ‘Volatile poetic insanity’.

[00:05:22] As you might imagine, the marriage did not last.

[00:05:25] Lord Byron left his wife and young child when she was just four weeks old, he travelled through Europe, having multiple affairs and causing havoc everywhere he went. 

[00:05:38] You’ll hear a little bit more about Lord Byron in an upcoming episode on a bizarre tradition called The Grand Tour.

[00:05:47] And, sadly, he never saw little Ada again.

[00:05:51] Ada’s mother, Annabella Byron, did everything she could to remove any trace of him from her daughter’s life.

[00:05:59] She genuinely believed that her husband was insane, he was mad, and was worried that little Ada might have inherited some of her father’s bad characteristics, including the idea of becoming a poet.

[00:06:15] Annabella was determined to keep young Ada away from this path.

[00:06:20] She covered up Byron’s portrait with a curtain, so Ada couldn’t even see what her father looked like.

[00:06:28] She set out to give Ada the best education possible, especially in mathematics and science.

[00:06:36] Not only did Annabella engage very good tutors, but she also put her daughter in contact with some of the leading scientific and mathematical minds of the day – people she had access to first through her social status and, later, when Ada married, through her husband‘s social circle as well.

[00:06:57] This wasn’t the norm for a woman in Victorian society. 

[00:07:01] Girls were expected to have some understanding of literature and to be able to make polite conversation, but mathematics and science were considered by many to be too complicated for a female mind.

[00:07:16] Of course, it might seem mad now, but there are multiple instances of well-respected scientists and mathematicians even suggesting that the subjects might be too complicated for Ada, precisely because she was female, and was therefore biologically inferior to a man. 

[00:07:37] Ada was to prove them all wrong.

[00:07:40] From an early age, she proved to be a fantastically talented student. 

[00:07:46] She was incredibly curious, had a very advanced understanding of engineering and mathematics, and at the age of 12 she had designed a mechanical bird.

[00:07:58] At the age of 17, as was the custom at the time for young aristocratic boys and girls, they would be - what's called -brought out into society.

[00:08:10] These young men and women would be taken to different parties, where they would make polite conversation, and eventually meet someone to marry, of a similar social class of course.

[00:08:22] So, continuing with this story, please now imagine a very large evening gathering – perhaps up to 300 people in 1833 – at the grand London home of Charles Babbage, who would have been 42 at the time. 

[00:08:40] The fancy word for such an evening was a soirée, taken from the French. 

[00:08:45] Apparently, there were three reasons that one would have been invited to such a soiree: ‘intellect, beauty or rank’. Rank means social importance.

[00:08:58] Ada had all three. 

[00:09:00] She was incredibly clever, she was beautiful, and she was at the top of London’s high society.

[00:09:07] Amongst all the distinguished and no doubt talented people at this sophisticated London soirée, it is the host that Annabella wants her daughter to meet most. 

[00:09:18] Babbage is one of the most eminent and talked-about people in England. 

[00:09:23] Why? 

[00:09:24] Well, Babbage is a man who has enviable talents and learning across a vast range of subjects; the handy word for this kind of person is a polymath

[00:09:36] Charles Babbage is by this time well known as an influential man with expertise across an amazing range of subjects: the organisation of factories, the new postal system, the invention of the speedometer, astronomy and statistics. 

[00:09:53] A true polymath, a true curious mind. 

[00:09:56] For those of you who enjoy old Western or cowboy films, it was Babbage who invented the so-called cow catcher, which is the triangular object attached to the front of a train to clear cows or any other objects out of the way of a train. 

[00:10:15] On top of all his many interests, he was also Lucasian Professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, incidentally the same post held by Isaac Newton, the man who famously discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.

[00:10:32] It is now 1833 when the 42-year-old illustrious polymath Charles Babbage meets the 17-year-old Ada. 

[00:10:41] She is of course accompanied by her mother–a young lady would not be allowed to go anywhere on her own.

[00:10:48] As you can imagine, with a man who had so many interests and was also extremely social, there were plenty of reasons why she and her well-known mother might have wanted to meet him. 

[00:11:00] For example, he was well known for conducting various quite eccentric campaigns against certain features of the crowded streets around his house. 

[00:11:11] He hated street music and in particular the portable organs that were played on the streets by people who would have been expecting to earn a few pennies for their songs – like buskers nowadays. 

[00:11:25] So Babbage conducted a campaign against these players of organs. 

[00:11:30] He also had an obsession – a bee in his bonnet to use the figurative expression – about boys who ran through the streets rolling hoops with sticks. 

[00:11:43] You may have seen old pictures of this generally harmless bit of fun that young boys would enjoy. 

[00:11:50] Grumpy old Babbage witnessed accidents when these hoops went out of control, getting stuck between horses' legs and breaking their legs. 

[00:12:00] So, this carefree, boyish activity should be banned, he thought, and he campaigned to make the activity illegal.

[00:12:09] Ada, who was, let us not forget, not much older than those carefree, accident-causing, hoop-rolling boys, was interested in two particular areas of her host‘s work: the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine.

[00:12:26] I need to give you a little bit of background on these, because understanding what they did is crucial for our appreciating their role in the history of computing.

[00:12:36] Babbage and his friend, the great astronomer John Herschel, had found themselves trying to check a series of figures that had already been looked over by computers. 

[00:12:49] Now at this stage – and indeed from 1613 when the word computer is first recorded as having been used – the word computer referred to a person who calculated things, not a machine. 

[00:13:05] What Babbage and Herschel decided was that it would be a great idea to create a machine that could do the job without making mistakes, without human error. 

[00:13:16] In fact we have the words that he said at the time: “ I wish to God that these calculations had been executed by steam.“ 

[00:13:26] In modern day English he is simply saying that he wished that the process had been automated.

[00:13:34] With this aspiration, Babbage set his brilliant mind to work in order to create the design for something that he called The Difference Engine, which was a sophisticated, mechanised way of doing complex calculations.

[00:13:51] By the time of the party in 1833, part of the Difference Engine had been built. 

[00:13:58] More excitingly still, Babbage had gone on to draw up a yet more complicated design for a machine which he called his Analytical Engine.

[00:14:08] Now this is where it gets quite complicated, because his very intricate design includes most of the typical features of the modern computer. 

[00:14:18] The central processing unit, some expandable memory, called the store. 

[00:14:23] If you know much about computers, these will all be familiar terms.

[00:14:28] He produced literally thousands of technical drawings which show how all of this fitted together. 

[00:14:35] The Analytical Engine was in effect a programmable machine that was capable of full digital computation. You would program it, and it would calculate sums for you.

[00:14:48] It is this brilliant vision and its intricate and detailed designs that earns Babbage his title as the person who originated the concept of the programmable computer - the Father of Computing.

[00:15:04] Now enter Ada Lovelace, let’s not forget, still of school age, but full of inquisitiveness and accompanied by her enterprising mother. 

[00:15:14] Both mother and daughter were fascinated by this machine.

[00:15:18] After the fancy party Lovelace and her mother decide to go on a tour of factories in the English Midlands, in an industrial area of the country, where they look at how machines work and in particular they look at a new invention, which is known as the Jacquard Loom - a device for weaving cloth, for making clothes. 

[00:15:43] The Jacquard Loom was a major invention because, through the use of something called punch cards attached to the loom, it was possible for the machine to create the most intricate and complex patterns and embroidery

[00:15:58] This visit and the party were clearly inspirations for Lovelace because she started a regular correspondence with Babbage, they exchanged letters for 20 years. 

[00:16:10] This was the beginning of what became a very fruitful collaborative relationship and meeting of minds.

[00:16:17] Although they met when Lovelace was just 17 years old, there is a 24 year age difference between the two and Lovelace is, of course, a woman, Babbage considers her an intellectual peer, he considers her to be on the same level from an intellectual point of view.

[00:16:36] Let me now take you onto the final and crucial stage of their collaboration. 

[00:16:42] It is a peculiar and slightly complicated story, but I will try and describe it briefly. 

[00:16:48] In 1840 Babbage visited Turin in Italy in order to give a talk about the Analytical Engine, which he was trying to promote. 

[00:16:58] Notes on his lecture are taken by a mathematician called Luigi Menabrea, who incidentally later becomes Prime Minister of Italy.

[00:17:07] The notes are taken in French, and then published in a Swiss Journal.

[00:17:12] Lovelace, who spoke French, is asked both to translate his paper into English and also to add some notes of her own. 

[00:17:22] The original version was around 8,000 words, but when Lovelace adds all of her own commentary it comes to 20,000 words, almost three times the length.

[00:17:34] It is because of these notes and what she adds that she comes to be regarded by many people as the first computer programmer. 

[00:17:43] What Lovelace realises about the Analytical Engine is that it can be used not just for calculating numbers, but for calculating anything. 

[00:17:54] Here is perhaps the most famous excerpt from what she added to the lecture notes; she refers to the Analytical Engine: “The machine will weave algebraic patterns like a Jacquard Loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

[00:18:10] Here is, apparently, the evidence that Ada had the vision to see that the machine was not simply constrained by numbers. 

[00:18:20] Numbers could be translated into concepts

[00:18:23] She is saying that this machine has much wider significance and use than merely numerical calculations. 

[00:18:32] For the software developers among you, Lovelace proposed the idea of looping, and conditional branching, or if statements.

[00:18:42] If you aren’t a software engineer and don’t know what I’m talking about, these are concepts that are very important for modern day computer programmers. 

[00:18:50] And remember, this is from Lovelace’s writing in 1843, coming up to 200 years ago.

[00:18:58] She is also credited with developing an algorithm that would enable the Analytical Engine to calculate a sequence of rational numbers – for the mathematicians amongst you, these are called Bernoulli numbers. 

[00:19:12] In subsequent discussions with Babbage on how to develop the Analytical Engine, Ada encourages him to raise additional money and to build a prototype for it. Remember, at this stage it is just a concept. 

[00:19:27] Unfortunately, although the British government had spent the equivalent of nearly £3 million trying to develop a prototype, it had stopped the investment because progress was too slow and also, it seems, Babbage was a particularly difficult person to deal with. 

[00:19:44] He was awkward and undiplomatic, and he tended to fall out with people.

[00:19:49] And he never lived to see his extraordinary machine built.

[00:19:54] As for Ada, her story doesn’t end well either; she was only 36 when she died of cancer. 

[00:20:01] In the cases of both Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, their work was largely ignored after their deaths. 

[00:20:08] Although they had envisioned the modern computer, it wasn’t until almost 100 years later that their work was to be re-examined.

[00:20:18] It was actually Alan Turing, who you can learn more about in episode 44, who found their work, and built on it with his own inventions.

[00:20:29] In terms of Ada, her name lives on: she has been commemorated in all sorts of different ways. 

[00:20:36] Ada is the name of a programming language used in military computers and for aviation.

[00:20:42] Ada Lovelace Day occurs on the second Tuesday of October each year, aiming to “… raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths”, and to “create new role models for girls and women”.

[00:20:56] The pictures of both Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage can be found inside a British passport, and even more importantly and perhaps extraordinarily, you can find full scale working Difference Engines, one in The Science Museum in London and another one in California. 

[00:21:15] And if you are curious, and you don’t live in London or California, there are some fascinating YouTube videos which show this beautiful, intricate and ground-breaking machine in all its glory.

[00:21:28] So, for both these brilliant and colourful 19th-century pioneers, their name does live on in different ways.

[00:21:36] There is a kind of immortality, both in these memorials – and of course in everyone’s pockets.

[00:21:44] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.

[00:21:51] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and the next time you look down at your phone, or think about the technology that goes into your computer, you can think of these two grand inventors.

[00:22:04] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:22:08] I know that we have a lot of software engineers, so I would particularly love to know what you thought of it.

[00:22:13] Do you know about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage? Do you know any Ada, the programming language?

[00:22:19] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:28] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:33] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.

[00:00:31] It is a fascinating story with many appetising ingredients: innovation, rivalry, eccentric genius, failure, obsession, invention, technology, creative vision, mathematics, poetry and family sadness. 

[00:00:48] It is certainly inspiring, and the subjects of today’s episode were some of the most curious minds in history.

[00:00:57] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get stuck in right away.

[00:01:04] The two people who are at the heart of our story have often been described as the Father of Computing and the Mother of Computer programming respectively; they are Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. 

[00:01:18] Babbage was born in 1791, and Lovelace in 1815, there was a 24 year age difference between the pair.

[00:01:28] They were both influential figures in British society during the 19th century, but in so many ways, as is often the case with people of genius, their true impact and influence only really became apparent at least a century after their deaths, in 1871 for Babbage, and in 1852 for Lovelace.

[00:01:53] So, this is a tale of brilliant innovation, thwarted genius and bold ambitions only partially achieved. 

[00:02:03] I think it is especially interesting and relevant to describe the lives of these two brilliant technology pioneers because their bold thinking and experimentation may well have laid the foundations for that vital piece of technology which you will be listening to this episode on - a computer, whether that’s a computer in a mobile phone or in a laptop or tablet.

[00:02:29] Yes, Lovelace and Babbage, in different ways, invented the computer, or at least, conceptualised the technology that computers would be built on.

[00:02:41] I think there is one other additional reason to explore their lives and influence: there is something reassuringly familiar and indeed timeless about the fights, rivalries, aspirations, dreams, failings and relationships that we will encounter in this story.

[00:03:01] Let me set the scene as best I can. 

[00:03:05] The world of early 19th century British society that they were born into was a stimulating one, with Britain industrialising ahead of any other country and at great speed, as you will have heard about in the episode on The Industrial Revolution. 

[00:03:21] It was also a world where people were obsessed with engineering and technology. 

[00:03:27] It must have been a very exciting place and time, although somewhat bewildering, confusing, because of the pace of change.

[00:03:36] Both our protagonists, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, were born into very wealthy families. 

[00:03:44] They both had problematic family lives, so although they were privileged financially, they did not have stable, emotional and loving family lives.

[00:03:56] Charles had a poor relationship with his banker father; although this was no longer a factor after his father died, leaving him a large fortune, a large amount of money in inheritance.

[00:04:08] This enabled him to pursue his many interests without worrying about needing an income through work - or a normal salary. 

[00:04:17] He could pursue his many enthusiasms at will.

[00:04:21] Ada had about the most exotic and notorious family background that you could have. 

[00:04:28] She was the only legitimate child of the celebrated and notorious poet, Lord Byron. 

[00:04:35] Byron was described famously as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. 

[00:04:41] He was from his early twenties one of the most famous people in the country, with many of the characteristics of the most notorious of today’s rock stars. 

[00:04:51] Famously, he had a pet bear, he would drink from a human skull, and had countless affairs with men and women alike.

[00:05:03] He was the complete opposite of Ada’s mother, a lady called Annabella, who was precise, methodical, and a scientist at heart.

[00:05:13] He called her the “Princess of Parallelograms”, and she referred to his ‘Volatile poetic insanity’.

[00:05:22] As you might imagine, the marriage did not last.

[00:05:25] Lord Byron left his wife and young child when she was just four weeks old, he travelled through Europe, having multiple affairs and causing havoc everywhere he went. 

[00:05:38] You’ll hear a little bit more about Lord Byron in an upcoming episode on a bizarre tradition called The Grand Tour.

[00:05:47] And, sadly, he never saw little Ada again.

[00:05:51] Ada’s mother, Annabella Byron, did everything she could to remove any trace of him from her daughter’s life.

[00:05:59] She genuinely believed that her husband was insane, he was mad, and was worried that little Ada might have inherited some of her father’s bad characteristics, including the idea of becoming a poet.

[00:06:15] Annabella was determined to keep young Ada away from this path.

[00:06:20] She covered up Byron’s portrait with a curtain, so Ada couldn’t even see what her father looked like.

[00:06:28] She set out to give Ada the best education possible, especially in mathematics and science.

[00:06:36] Not only did Annabella engage very good tutors, but she also put her daughter in contact with some of the leading scientific and mathematical minds of the day – people she had access to first through her social status and, later, when Ada married, through her husband‘s social circle as well.

[00:06:57] This wasn’t the norm for a woman in Victorian society. 

[00:07:01] Girls were expected to have some understanding of literature and to be able to make polite conversation, but mathematics and science were considered by many to be too complicated for a female mind.

[00:07:16] Of course, it might seem mad now, but there are multiple instances of well-respected scientists and mathematicians even suggesting that the subjects might be too complicated for Ada, precisely because she was female, and was therefore biologically inferior to a man. 

[00:07:37] Ada was to prove them all wrong.

[00:07:40] From an early age, she proved to be a fantastically talented student. 

[00:07:46] She was incredibly curious, had a very advanced understanding of engineering and mathematics, and at the age of 12 she had designed a mechanical bird.

[00:07:58] At the age of 17, as was the custom at the time for young aristocratic boys and girls, they would be - what's called -brought out into society.

[00:08:10] These young men and women would be taken to different parties, where they would make polite conversation, and eventually meet someone to marry, of a similar social class of course.

[00:08:22] So, continuing with this story, please now imagine a very large evening gathering – perhaps up to 300 people in 1833 – at the grand London home of Charles Babbage, who would have been 42 at the time. 

[00:08:40] The fancy word for such an evening was a soirée, taken from the French. 

[00:08:45] Apparently, there were three reasons that one would have been invited to such a soiree: ‘intellect, beauty or rank’. Rank means social importance.

[00:08:58] Ada had all three. 

[00:09:00] She was incredibly clever, she was beautiful, and she was at the top of London’s high society.

[00:09:07] Amongst all the distinguished and no doubt talented people at this sophisticated London soirée, it is the host that Annabella wants her daughter to meet most. 

[00:09:18] Babbage is one of the most eminent and talked-about people in England. 

[00:09:23] Why? 

[00:09:24] Well, Babbage is a man who has enviable talents and learning across a vast range of subjects; the handy word for this kind of person is a polymath

[00:09:36] Charles Babbage is by this time well known as an influential man with expertise across an amazing range of subjects: the organisation of factories, the new postal system, the invention of the speedometer, astronomy and statistics. 

[00:09:53] A true polymath, a true curious mind. 

[00:09:56] For those of you who enjoy old Western or cowboy films, it was Babbage who invented the so-called cow catcher, which is the triangular object attached to the front of a train to clear cows or any other objects out of the way of a train. 

[00:10:15] On top of all his many interests, he was also Lucasian Professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, incidentally the same post held by Isaac Newton, the man who famously discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.

[00:10:32] It is now 1833 when the 42-year-old illustrious polymath Charles Babbage meets the 17-year-old Ada. 

[00:10:41] She is of course accompanied by her mother–a young lady would not be allowed to go anywhere on her own.

[00:10:48] As you can imagine, with a man who had so many interests and was also extremely social, there were plenty of reasons why she and her well-known mother might have wanted to meet him. 

[00:11:00] For example, he was well known for conducting various quite eccentric campaigns against certain features of the crowded streets around his house. 

[00:11:11] He hated street music and in particular the portable organs that were played on the streets by people who would have been expecting to earn a few pennies for their songs – like buskers nowadays. 

[00:11:25] So Babbage conducted a campaign against these players of organs. 

[00:11:30] He also had an obsession – a bee in his bonnet to use the figurative expression – about boys who ran through the streets rolling hoops with sticks. 

[00:11:43] You may have seen old pictures of this generally harmless bit of fun that young boys would enjoy. 

[00:11:50] Grumpy old Babbage witnessed accidents when these hoops went out of control, getting stuck between horses' legs and breaking their legs. 

[00:12:00] So, this carefree, boyish activity should be banned, he thought, and he campaigned to make the activity illegal.

[00:12:09] Ada, who was, let us not forget, not much older than those carefree, accident-causing, hoop-rolling boys, was interested in two particular areas of her host‘s work: the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine.

[00:12:26] I need to give you a little bit of background on these, because understanding what they did is crucial for our appreciating their role in the history of computing.

[00:12:36] Babbage and his friend, the great astronomer John Herschel, had found themselves trying to check a series of figures that had already been looked over by computers. 

[00:12:49] Now at this stage – and indeed from 1613 when the word computer is first recorded as having been used – the word computer referred to a person who calculated things, not a machine. 

[00:13:05] What Babbage and Herschel decided was that it would be a great idea to create a machine that could do the job without making mistakes, without human error. 

[00:13:16] In fact we have the words that he said at the time: “ I wish to God that these calculations had been executed by steam.“ 

[00:13:26] In modern day English he is simply saying that he wished that the process had been automated.

[00:13:34] With this aspiration, Babbage set his brilliant mind to work in order to create the design for something that he called The Difference Engine, which was a sophisticated, mechanised way of doing complex calculations.

[00:13:51] By the time of the party in 1833, part of the Difference Engine had been built. 

[00:13:58] More excitingly still, Babbage had gone on to draw up a yet more complicated design for a machine which he called his Analytical Engine.

[00:14:08] Now this is where it gets quite complicated, because his very intricate design includes most of the typical features of the modern computer. 

[00:14:18] The central processing unit, some expandable memory, called the store. 

[00:14:23] If you know much about computers, these will all be familiar terms.

[00:14:28] He produced literally thousands of technical drawings which show how all of this fitted together. 

[00:14:35] The Analytical Engine was in effect a programmable machine that was capable of full digital computation. You would program it, and it would calculate sums for you.

[00:14:48] It is this brilliant vision and its intricate and detailed designs that earns Babbage his title as the person who originated the concept of the programmable computer - the Father of Computing.

[00:15:04] Now enter Ada Lovelace, let’s not forget, still of school age, but full of inquisitiveness and accompanied by her enterprising mother. 

[00:15:14] Both mother and daughter were fascinated by this machine.

[00:15:18] After the fancy party Lovelace and her mother decide to go on a tour of factories in the English Midlands, in an industrial area of the country, where they look at how machines work and in particular they look at a new invention, which is known as the Jacquard Loom - a device for weaving cloth, for making clothes. 

[00:15:43] The Jacquard Loom was a major invention because, through the use of something called punch cards attached to the loom, it was possible for the machine to create the most intricate and complex patterns and embroidery

[00:15:58] This visit and the party were clearly inspirations for Lovelace because she started a regular correspondence with Babbage, they exchanged letters for 20 years. 

[00:16:10] This was the beginning of what became a very fruitful collaborative relationship and meeting of minds.

[00:16:17] Although they met when Lovelace was just 17 years old, there is a 24 year age difference between the two and Lovelace is, of course, a woman, Babbage considers her an intellectual peer, he considers her to be on the same level from an intellectual point of view.

[00:16:36] Let me now take you onto the final and crucial stage of their collaboration. 

[00:16:42] It is a peculiar and slightly complicated story, but I will try and describe it briefly. 

[00:16:48] In 1840 Babbage visited Turin in Italy in order to give a talk about the Analytical Engine, which he was trying to promote. 

[00:16:58] Notes on his lecture are taken by a mathematician called Luigi Menabrea, who incidentally later becomes Prime Minister of Italy.

[00:17:07] The notes are taken in French, and then published in a Swiss Journal.

[00:17:12] Lovelace, who spoke French, is asked both to translate his paper into English and also to add some notes of her own. 

[00:17:22] The original version was around 8,000 words, but when Lovelace adds all of her own commentary it comes to 20,000 words, almost three times the length.

[00:17:34] It is because of these notes and what she adds that she comes to be regarded by many people as the first computer programmer. 

[00:17:43] What Lovelace realises about the Analytical Engine is that it can be used not just for calculating numbers, but for calculating anything. 

[00:17:54] Here is perhaps the most famous excerpt from what she added to the lecture notes; she refers to the Analytical Engine: “The machine will weave algebraic patterns like a Jacquard Loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

[00:18:10] Here is, apparently, the evidence that Ada had the vision to see that the machine was not simply constrained by numbers. 

[00:18:20] Numbers could be translated into concepts

[00:18:23] She is saying that this machine has much wider significance and use than merely numerical calculations. 

[00:18:32] For the software developers among you, Lovelace proposed the idea of looping, and conditional branching, or if statements.

[00:18:42] If you aren’t a software engineer and don’t know what I’m talking about, these are concepts that are very important for modern day computer programmers. 

[00:18:50] And remember, this is from Lovelace’s writing in 1843, coming up to 200 years ago.

[00:18:58] She is also credited with developing an algorithm that would enable the Analytical Engine to calculate a sequence of rational numbers – for the mathematicians amongst you, these are called Bernoulli numbers. 

[00:19:12] In subsequent discussions with Babbage on how to develop the Analytical Engine, Ada encourages him to raise additional money and to build a prototype for it. Remember, at this stage it is just a concept. 

[00:19:27] Unfortunately, although the British government had spent the equivalent of nearly £3 million trying to develop a prototype, it had stopped the investment because progress was too slow and also, it seems, Babbage was a particularly difficult person to deal with. 

[00:19:44] He was awkward and undiplomatic, and he tended to fall out with people.

[00:19:49] And he never lived to see his extraordinary machine built.

[00:19:54] As for Ada, her story doesn’t end well either; she was only 36 when she died of cancer. 

[00:20:01] In the cases of both Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, their work was largely ignored after their deaths. 

[00:20:08] Although they had envisioned the modern computer, it wasn’t until almost 100 years later that their work was to be re-examined.

[00:20:18] It was actually Alan Turing, who you can learn more about in episode 44, who found their work, and built on it with his own inventions.

[00:20:29] In terms of Ada, her name lives on: she has been commemorated in all sorts of different ways. 

[00:20:36] Ada is the name of a programming language used in military computers and for aviation.

[00:20:42] Ada Lovelace Day occurs on the second Tuesday of October each year, aiming to “… raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths”, and to “create new role models for girls and women”.

[00:20:56] The pictures of both Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage can be found inside a British passport, and even more importantly and perhaps extraordinarily, you can find full scale working Difference Engines, one in The Science Museum in London and another one in California. 

[00:21:15] And if you are curious, and you don’t live in London or California, there are some fascinating YouTube videos which show this beautiful, intricate and ground-breaking machine in all its glory.

[00:21:28] So, for both these brilliant and colourful 19th-century pioneers, their name does live on in different ways.

[00:21:36] There is a kind of immortality, both in these memorials – and of course in everyone’s pockets.

[00:21:44] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.

[00:21:51] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and the next time you look down at your phone, or think about the technology that goes into your computer, you can think of these two grand inventors.

[00:22:04] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:22:08] I know that we have a lot of software engineers, so I would particularly love to know what you thought of it.

[00:22:13] Do you know about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage? Do you know any Ada, the programming language?

[00:22:19] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:28] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:33] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.

[00:00:31] It is a fascinating story with many appetising ingredients: innovation, rivalry, eccentric genius, failure, obsession, invention, technology, creative vision, mathematics, poetry and family sadness. 

[00:00:48] It is certainly inspiring, and the subjects of today’s episode were some of the most curious minds in history.

[00:00:57] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get stuck in right away.

[00:01:04] The two people who are at the heart of our story have often been described as the Father of Computing and the Mother of Computer programming respectively; they are Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. 

[00:01:18] Babbage was born in 1791, and Lovelace in 1815, there was a 24 year age difference between the pair.

[00:01:28] They were both influential figures in British society during the 19th century, but in so many ways, as is often the case with people of genius, their true impact and influence only really became apparent at least a century after their deaths, in 1871 for Babbage, and in 1852 for Lovelace.

[00:01:53] So, this is a tale of brilliant innovation, thwarted genius and bold ambitions only partially achieved. 

[00:02:03] I think it is especially interesting and relevant to describe the lives of these two brilliant technology pioneers because their bold thinking and experimentation may well have laid the foundations for that vital piece of technology which you will be listening to this episode on - a computer, whether that’s a computer in a mobile phone or in a laptop or tablet.

[00:02:29] Yes, Lovelace and Babbage, in different ways, invented the computer, or at least, conceptualised the technology that computers would be built on.

[00:02:41] I think there is one other additional reason to explore their lives and influence: there is something reassuringly familiar and indeed timeless about the fights, rivalries, aspirations, dreams, failings and relationships that we will encounter in this story.

[00:03:01] Let me set the scene as best I can. 

[00:03:05] The world of early 19th century British society that they were born into was a stimulating one, with Britain industrialising ahead of any other country and at great speed, as you will have heard about in the episode on The Industrial Revolution. 

[00:03:21] It was also a world where people were obsessed with engineering and technology. 

[00:03:27] It must have been a very exciting place and time, although somewhat bewildering, confusing, because of the pace of change.

[00:03:36] Both our protagonists, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, were born into very wealthy families. 

[00:03:44] They both had problematic family lives, so although they were privileged financially, they did not have stable, emotional and loving family lives.

[00:03:56] Charles had a poor relationship with his banker father; although this was no longer a factor after his father died, leaving him a large fortune, a large amount of money in inheritance.

[00:04:08] This enabled him to pursue his many interests without worrying about needing an income through work - or a normal salary. 

[00:04:17] He could pursue his many enthusiasms at will.

[00:04:21] Ada had about the most exotic and notorious family background that you could have. 

[00:04:28] She was the only legitimate child of the celebrated and notorious poet, Lord Byron. 

[00:04:35] Byron was described famously as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. 

[00:04:41] He was from his early twenties one of the most famous people in the country, with many of the characteristics of the most notorious of today’s rock stars. 

[00:04:51] Famously, he had a pet bear, he would drink from a human skull, and had countless affairs with men and women alike.

[00:05:03] He was the complete opposite of Ada’s mother, a lady called Annabella, who was precise, methodical, and a scientist at heart.

[00:05:13] He called her the “Princess of Parallelograms”, and she referred to his ‘Volatile poetic insanity’.

[00:05:22] As you might imagine, the marriage did not last.

[00:05:25] Lord Byron left his wife and young child when she was just four weeks old, he travelled through Europe, having multiple affairs and causing havoc everywhere he went. 

[00:05:38] You’ll hear a little bit more about Lord Byron in an upcoming episode on a bizarre tradition called The Grand Tour.

[00:05:47] And, sadly, he never saw little Ada again.

[00:05:51] Ada’s mother, Annabella Byron, did everything she could to remove any trace of him from her daughter’s life.

[00:05:59] She genuinely believed that her husband was insane, he was mad, and was worried that little Ada might have inherited some of her father’s bad characteristics, including the idea of becoming a poet.

[00:06:15] Annabella was determined to keep young Ada away from this path.

[00:06:20] She covered up Byron’s portrait with a curtain, so Ada couldn’t even see what her father looked like.

[00:06:28] She set out to give Ada the best education possible, especially in mathematics and science.

[00:06:36] Not only did Annabella engage very good tutors, but she also put her daughter in contact with some of the leading scientific and mathematical minds of the day – people she had access to first through her social status and, later, when Ada married, through her husband‘s social circle as well.

[00:06:57] This wasn’t the norm for a woman in Victorian society. 

[00:07:01] Girls were expected to have some understanding of literature and to be able to make polite conversation, but mathematics and science were considered by many to be too complicated for a female mind.

[00:07:16] Of course, it might seem mad now, but there are multiple instances of well-respected scientists and mathematicians even suggesting that the subjects might be too complicated for Ada, precisely because she was female, and was therefore biologically inferior to a man. 

[00:07:37] Ada was to prove them all wrong.

[00:07:40] From an early age, she proved to be a fantastically talented student. 

[00:07:46] She was incredibly curious, had a very advanced understanding of engineering and mathematics, and at the age of 12 she had designed a mechanical bird.

[00:07:58] At the age of 17, as was the custom at the time for young aristocratic boys and girls, they would be - what's called -brought out into society.

[00:08:10] These young men and women would be taken to different parties, where they would make polite conversation, and eventually meet someone to marry, of a similar social class of course.

[00:08:22] So, continuing with this story, please now imagine a very large evening gathering – perhaps up to 300 people in 1833 – at the grand London home of Charles Babbage, who would have been 42 at the time. 

[00:08:40] The fancy word for such an evening was a soirée, taken from the French. 

[00:08:45] Apparently, there were three reasons that one would have been invited to such a soiree: ‘intellect, beauty or rank’. Rank means social importance.

[00:08:58] Ada had all three. 

[00:09:00] She was incredibly clever, she was beautiful, and she was at the top of London’s high society.

[00:09:07] Amongst all the distinguished and no doubt talented people at this sophisticated London soirée, it is the host that Annabella wants her daughter to meet most. 

[00:09:18] Babbage is one of the most eminent and talked-about people in England. 

[00:09:23] Why? 

[00:09:24] Well, Babbage is a man who has enviable talents and learning across a vast range of subjects; the handy word for this kind of person is a polymath

[00:09:36] Charles Babbage is by this time well known as an influential man with expertise across an amazing range of subjects: the organisation of factories, the new postal system, the invention of the speedometer, astronomy and statistics. 

[00:09:53] A true polymath, a true curious mind. 

[00:09:56] For those of you who enjoy old Western or cowboy films, it was Babbage who invented the so-called cow catcher, which is the triangular object attached to the front of a train to clear cows or any other objects out of the way of a train. 

[00:10:15] On top of all his many interests, he was also Lucasian Professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, incidentally the same post held by Isaac Newton, the man who famously discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.

[00:10:32] It is now 1833 when the 42-year-old illustrious polymath Charles Babbage meets the 17-year-old Ada. 

[00:10:41] She is of course accompanied by her mother–a young lady would not be allowed to go anywhere on her own.

[00:10:48] As you can imagine, with a man who had so many interests and was also extremely social, there were plenty of reasons why she and her well-known mother might have wanted to meet him. 

[00:11:00] For example, he was well known for conducting various quite eccentric campaigns against certain features of the crowded streets around his house. 

[00:11:11] He hated street music and in particular the portable organs that were played on the streets by people who would have been expecting to earn a few pennies for their songs – like buskers nowadays. 

[00:11:25] So Babbage conducted a campaign against these players of organs. 

[00:11:30] He also had an obsession – a bee in his bonnet to use the figurative expression – about boys who ran through the streets rolling hoops with sticks. 

[00:11:43] You may have seen old pictures of this generally harmless bit of fun that young boys would enjoy. 

[00:11:50] Grumpy old Babbage witnessed accidents when these hoops went out of control, getting stuck between horses' legs and breaking their legs. 

[00:12:00] So, this carefree, boyish activity should be banned, he thought, and he campaigned to make the activity illegal.

[00:12:09] Ada, who was, let us not forget, not much older than those carefree, accident-causing, hoop-rolling boys, was interested in two particular areas of her host‘s work: the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine.

[00:12:26] I need to give you a little bit of background on these, because understanding what they did is crucial for our appreciating their role in the history of computing.

[00:12:36] Babbage and his friend, the great astronomer John Herschel, had found themselves trying to check a series of figures that had already been looked over by computers. 

[00:12:49] Now at this stage – and indeed from 1613 when the word computer is first recorded as having been used – the word computer referred to a person who calculated things, not a machine. 

[00:13:05] What Babbage and Herschel decided was that it would be a great idea to create a machine that could do the job without making mistakes, without human error. 

[00:13:16] In fact we have the words that he said at the time: “ I wish to God that these calculations had been executed by steam.“ 

[00:13:26] In modern day English he is simply saying that he wished that the process had been automated.

[00:13:34] With this aspiration, Babbage set his brilliant mind to work in order to create the design for something that he called The Difference Engine, which was a sophisticated, mechanised way of doing complex calculations.

[00:13:51] By the time of the party in 1833, part of the Difference Engine had been built. 

[00:13:58] More excitingly still, Babbage had gone on to draw up a yet more complicated design for a machine which he called his Analytical Engine.

[00:14:08] Now this is where it gets quite complicated, because his very intricate design includes most of the typical features of the modern computer. 

[00:14:18] The central processing unit, some expandable memory, called the store. 

[00:14:23] If you know much about computers, these will all be familiar terms.

[00:14:28] He produced literally thousands of technical drawings which show how all of this fitted together. 

[00:14:35] The Analytical Engine was in effect a programmable machine that was capable of full digital computation. You would program it, and it would calculate sums for you.

[00:14:48] It is this brilliant vision and its intricate and detailed designs that earns Babbage his title as the person who originated the concept of the programmable computer - the Father of Computing.

[00:15:04] Now enter Ada Lovelace, let’s not forget, still of school age, but full of inquisitiveness and accompanied by her enterprising mother. 

[00:15:14] Both mother and daughter were fascinated by this machine.

[00:15:18] After the fancy party Lovelace and her mother decide to go on a tour of factories in the English Midlands, in an industrial area of the country, where they look at how machines work and in particular they look at a new invention, which is known as the Jacquard Loom - a device for weaving cloth, for making clothes. 

[00:15:43] The Jacquard Loom was a major invention because, through the use of something called punch cards attached to the loom, it was possible for the machine to create the most intricate and complex patterns and embroidery

[00:15:58] This visit and the party were clearly inspirations for Lovelace because she started a regular correspondence with Babbage, they exchanged letters for 20 years. 

[00:16:10] This was the beginning of what became a very fruitful collaborative relationship and meeting of minds.

[00:16:17] Although they met when Lovelace was just 17 years old, there is a 24 year age difference between the two and Lovelace is, of course, a woman, Babbage considers her an intellectual peer, he considers her to be on the same level from an intellectual point of view.

[00:16:36] Let me now take you onto the final and crucial stage of their collaboration. 

[00:16:42] It is a peculiar and slightly complicated story, but I will try and describe it briefly. 

[00:16:48] In 1840 Babbage visited Turin in Italy in order to give a talk about the Analytical Engine, which he was trying to promote. 

[00:16:58] Notes on his lecture are taken by a mathematician called Luigi Menabrea, who incidentally later becomes Prime Minister of Italy.

[00:17:07] The notes are taken in French, and then published in a Swiss Journal.

[00:17:12] Lovelace, who spoke French, is asked both to translate his paper into English and also to add some notes of her own. 

[00:17:22] The original version was around 8,000 words, but when Lovelace adds all of her own commentary it comes to 20,000 words, almost three times the length.

[00:17:34] It is because of these notes and what she adds that she comes to be regarded by many people as the first computer programmer. 

[00:17:43] What Lovelace realises about the Analytical Engine is that it can be used not just for calculating numbers, but for calculating anything. 

[00:17:54] Here is perhaps the most famous excerpt from what she added to the lecture notes; she refers to the Analytical Engine: “The machine will weave algebraic patterns like a Jacquard Loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

[00:18:10] Here is, apparently, the evidence that Ada had the vision to see that the machine was not simply constrained by numbers. 

[00:18:20] Numbers could be translated into concepts

[00:18:23] She is saying that this machine has much wider significance and use than merely numerical calculations. 

[00:18:32] For the software developers among you, Lovelace proposed the idea of looping, and conditional branching, or if statements.

[00:18:42] If you aren’t a software engineer and don’t know what I’m talking about, these are concepts that are very important for modern day computer programmers. 

[00:18:50] And remember, this is from Lovelace’s writing in 1843, coming up to 200 years ago.

[00:18:58] She is also credited with developing an algorithm that would enable the Analytical Engine to calculate a sequence of rational numbers – for the mathematicians amongst you, these are called Bernoulli numbers. 

[00:19:12] In subsequent discussions with Babbage on how to develop the Analytical Engine, Ada encourages him to raise additional money and to build a prototype for it. Remember, at this stage it is just a concept. 

[00:19:27] Unfortunately, although the British government had spent the equivalent of nearly £3 million trying to develop a prototype, it had stopped the investment because progress was too slow and also, it seems, Babbage was a particularly difficult person to deal with. 

[00:19:44] He was awkward and undiplomatic, and he tended to fall out with people.

[00:19:49] And he never lived to see his extraordinary machine built.

[00:19:54] As for Ada, her story doesn’t end well either; she was only 36 when she died of cancer. 

[00:20:01] In the cases of both Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, their work was largely ignored after their deaths. 

[00:20:08] Although they had envisioned the modern computer, it wasn’t until almost 100 years later that their work was to be re-examined.

[00:20:18] It was actually Alan Turing, who you can learn more about in episode 44, who found their work, and built on it with his own inventions.

[00:20:29] In terms of Ada, her name lives on: she has been commemorated in all sorts of different ways. 

[00:20:36] Ada is the name of a programming language used in military computers and for aviation.

[00:20:42] Ada Lovelace Day occurs on the second Tuesday of October each year, aiming to “… raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths”, and to “create new role models for girls and women”.

[00:20:56] The pictures of both Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage can be found inside a British passport, and even more importantly and perhaps extraordinarily, you can find full scale working Difference Engines, one in The Science Museum in London and another one in California. 

[00:21:15] And if you are curious, and you don’t live in London or California, there are some fascinating YouTube videos which show this beautiful, intricate and ground-breaking machine in all its glory.

[00:21:28] So, for both these brilliant and colourful 19th-century pioneers, their name does live on in different ways.

[00:21:36] There is a kind of immortality, both in these memorials – and of course in everyone’s pockets.

[00:21:44] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage.

[00:21:51] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and the next time you look down at your phone, or think about the technology that goes into your computer, you can think of these two grand inventors.

[00:22:04] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:22:08] I know that we have a lot of software engineers, so I would particularly love to know what you thought of it.

[00:22:13] Do you know about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage? Do you know any Ada, the programming language?

[00:22:19] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:28] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:33] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]