World’s First Computer Program: Rare Copy of Ada Lovelace’s Algorithm Sells For $ 125,000


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One hundred and fifty years before the computer became a household item, the English mathematician Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithm. The Guardian reports that a first edition manuscript containing this historic program sold at auction for over $ 125,000.

As well as being the world’s first computer programmer, Lovelace was the daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron, which allowed her to mingle with the greatest English thinkers. As a teenager, she met and befriended Charles Babbage, the Cambridge math professor who was behind the conceptualization of the first programmable computer. Babbage shared and discussed with her her ideas for her crawl engine for years, and by the time she hit her late twenties, she had her own expertise to offer.

In 1842 Babbage gave a lecture on his concept at the University of Turin. Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea transcribed it into French, and Lovelace was asked to transcribe it into English. She inserted her own notes into the text, including a suggested algorithm that would program the engine, and the final manuscript ended up being three times as long as the original transcript.

The manuscript was published in 1843, and there are only six bound copies known today. The Moore Allen & Innocent auction house expected the copy they were to sell for between $ 50,000 and $ 80,000, but it went to an anonymous buyer through a bookseller of the Cotswolds for $ 125,000.

Lovelace is famous today for his role in the history of computing, but for decades his work went largely unrecognized. It wasn’t until 2009 that her fans launched Ada Lovelace Day, a mid-October event dedicated to women in STEM.

Neither Lovelace nor Babbage lived to see the analytical engine become a functioning machine, but Lovelace had an eerily prophetic view of what their work meant for the future. She predicted that computer programs would one day be used to compose music, create graphics, and conduct scientific work.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Gordon K. Morehouse