Programming love?

Porto Venere (which in Italian means “Port Venus”) is a pearl in the Ligurian Sea, bathed not only by the Goddess of Love after whom it is named, but also by the exhaustion of poet Lord Byron when he swam the stretch of sea separating it from the small coastal town of Lerici.

Byron championed Luddism, an English popular movement whose members were notorious for destroying the looms and textile machinery introduced by the Industrial Revolution, considering them a threat to skilled craftsmanship. Paradoxically, the daughter that Lord Byron never knew, Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), is instead considered the mother of computer programming. Her special talent lay in an ability to grasp that an algorithm could go beyond numbers, generating symbols, words, and even notes. However, as Ada pointed out, it would never be imaginative, because it would always rely on a human brain in order to function.

Thus, the daughter of a poet created a device that, in order to work, would always need poetry. Seeing as Valentine’s Day is in three days’ time, this seems a perfect preamble to the subject of love. “What’s in a name?” one might well ask; in Ada’s case,“love” and “lace” – not just the delicate, weblike fabric which the Luddites defended, but also the sturdy cords used to lace-up those boxing-gloves she supposedly had to don in order to assert herself in the “ring” of mathematics. Hers was a short-lived life, spent in what was then exclusively a man’s world.

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science : a love that history tried hard to complicate and render as intricate as bobbin lace.