Walter Isaacson on the women of ENIAC


Ever since the days of Charles Babbage, who conceived of a giant mechanical calculator called the Analytical Engine in the 1830s, the engineering of computer hardware has been dominated by men. The pioneers of software, however, were often women, beginning with Babbage’s friend and muse Ada, Countess of Lovelace. Daughter of the Romantic poet Lord Byron and a mother who loved math, Ada combined both fields into what she called “poetical science.” When she saw some mechanical looms that used punched cards to direct the weaving of beautiful patterns, it reminded her of how Babbage’s engine used punched cards to make calculations, and she developed the historic insight that a calculator could be instructed to handle not just numbers but anything that could be notated in logical symbols, such as music or words or graphics or textile patterns. In other words, she envisioned the modern computer. She also drew up…

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