Why Steve Jobs owes thanks to Ada Lovelace

Steve Dinneen
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The technology world continues to mourn the passing of its iconic leader. Sadness over Steve Jobs’ death has seeped into the mainstream, like a virus, with ordinary people, who don’t know their C from their C++ and probably never played Dungeons & Dragons, leaving £400 iPads outside Apple Stores as a mark of respect.

If Jobs were to enter the Total Perspective Vortex (a torture device from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which drives its victims mad by giving them a “momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here’”), he would step out of it unscathed, safe in the knowledge he was, by a clear margin, the most important person in his field.

Coverage of his passing has been like a black-hole, sucking in every other technology story and crushing them under its colossal weight of significance.

The bizarre spat between Autonomy boss Mike Lynch and US computing giant Oracle quietly disappeared.

The latest Google-branded handset – the Nexus Prime, which was to be unveiled tomorrow – was put on indefinite hold, with insiders saying it no longer felt like the right time for the launch.

And another event passed with almost no recognition at all: Ada Lovelace day, the celebration of the achievements of the woman widely credited with drafting the world’s first algorithm.

Her work with Charles Babbage in producing the blueprints for the analytical engine – an entirely mechanical work of steampunk genius that would have every hipster in London’s east end salivating onto their brogues – was a cornerstone in the development of the computer.

Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of club-footed lothario-poet Byron, would never see her work put into action; the computer wasn’t successfully constructed for another 150 years.

But Steve Jobs owes a tiny fraction of his success to her pioneering work. When Apple inevitably invents the time machine, confirming it as the undisputed master of the chronal as well as the spatial realm, I hope it sends someone back to show her the latest iPhone.

“You helped to build this Ada, isn’t it amazing?”

At which point Lovelace – Ada, not to be confused with Linda, who was a pioneer in an altogether different sphere – would collapse from a massive coronary. Her algorithm would go unfinished and the iPhone would disappear in a puff of logic.

Then this column would be about a phone that never existed and a man you have never heard of. You would wonder what an “iPad” is and why people are leaving them outside the “Apple Store”. Was Steve Jobs a fruit seller? Why are you writing about a fruit seller in a technology column? Then, angry and confused, you would stop reading.