Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day is a celebration of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and should be applauded as such. However, Ada is also an inspirational figure for women in the arts - and poets in particular.

She is credited as the world’s first computer programmer for her theories on “poetical science” and was described in this article as “the first person to marry the mathematical capabilities of computational machines with the poetic possibilities of symbolic logic applied with imagination.” If you are interested to know more, Sydney Padua’s graphic novel about Lovelace and Charles Babbage is as entertaining as it is informative.

It is not just her significant intellectual achievements that make her an admirable figure for poets. The daughter of the unhappily married Lord and Lady Byron, Ada embraced both her parents’ interests, while they themselves used them against each other. Her mother, Annabella Milbanke, was gifted in mathematics and after the relationship soured due to Byron’s repeated and rather dubious infidelities, he railed against her. He called her a “Mathematical Medea” and referenced her in Don Juan with the contemptuous lines “Her favourite science was the mathematical… She was a walking calculation.”

In fact, Ada herself was the walking calculation. In marrying mathematics and poetry, she managed to both appease and defy her parents. It is the sort of infuriating rebellion that is so cleverly constructed that it is beyond reproach. The contrarian in me loves her for that alone. Poets should embrace contradiction and look for ways to create tension in their writing because poetry is a living, breathing art and reflects human interests and frailties. If a novelist presents characters as either “all good” or “all bad”, they become two-dimensional and often readers lose interest. In the same way, showing something of Ada’s spirit of rebellion in poetry can only enrich it, raise questions and place the answers just beyond reach and address the many contradictions of human behavior.

Lovelace believed that machines would become partners of the human imagination. My advice is to take a creative journey with Lovelace herself -  as partners in imagination go, she is a most inspiring travelling companion.