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To Dream Tomorrow , the newest of Flare's Women of Power documentary films, is the story of Ada Byron Lovelace, her work with Charles Babbage, and their contributions to computing over a hundred years before the time usually thought to be the start of the Computer Age.
Daughter of a mathematically gifted, social activist mother and the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" poet, Lord Byron, Ada's life was unconventional, daring, and short. Possessed of enormous energy and talent, she faced some daunting obstacles -- both in her personal life and the society of her time -- as she fought to work professionally and make a contribution to science and mathematics.
Ada was just 17 when she met Babbage and became intrigued by the workings of a mechanical calculator he had designed. Though as a woman she was barred from
universities and scientific libraries, Ada continued her mathematical studies, encouraged by Babbage, who brought her into contact with leading scientists of the day. These included the famous science writer, Mary Somerville; Michael Faraday, first person to generate an electrical current; Isabard Kingdom Brunel, who completed the tunnel under the Thames; and Charles Wheatstone who was developing the telegraph. The group discussed with Babbage his idea of the
"Analytical Engine," a powerful new calculator he was designing to have a central processor --the "Mill" --divided from the "Store" where data would be kept. It could be programmed to perform any calculation.
Would the government fund such a huge and costly machine? And, if this general-purpose computing machine were built, would it work? Much later, at the turn of the twenty first century, an experiment carried out at London's Science Museum, shown in the film, supports earlier evidence that Babbage and Lovelace were justified in their confidence that the machine could have been built in their day. At the time, however, a distracted and embattled Prime Minister rejected Babbage's request for further funding, claiming that a computing machine would be "worthless as far as science is concerned."
To help garner support to build the Analytical Engine, Ada sprang into action to describe how such a machine would function. In the Notes, published when she was 27, she went even beyond her famous contemporaries in articulating the concept of symbolic manipulation that would lead beyond number-crunching to applications that are only now, in our own time, beginning to be fully realized.
Color, 52 minutes © 2003
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