Good News in History, December 10

Good News in History, December 10

200 years ago today, the first computer programmer was born–and she was a woman. Called the “Enchantress of Numbers,” British mathematician Ada Lovelace became the first programmer when she wrote an algorithm for an early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Though known for her collaboration with Charles Babbage on that pioneering machine, which came a full century before any calculating computer would actually be put to use, she was also a writer and the daughter of poet Lord Byron. (1815)

Ada described her approach as “poetical science” and herself as an “Analyst (& Metaphysician)”. In her elaborate writings about the Analytical Engine, entitled, simply, Notes, she described a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities. She envisioned that maybe music could be expressed and composed on such a machine, for instance.AnalyticalMachine_Babbage_London-CC-Bruno Barral

As Babbage ran out of money, the engine was never completed so her code was untested.  However, The first complete Babbage Engine was completed in London in 2002, 153 years after it was designed. Built faithfully to the original drawings, it uses 8,000 parts, weighs five tons, and measures 11 feet long—and it did exactly what the designers said it would do. An identical Engine is on display in the Mountain View, CA Computer Museum. (Learn more from these books, including the fantastic Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators.)

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • The US Territory of Wyoming granted women the right to vote (1869)
  • The first Nobel Prizes were awarded and on this date; which many notables have received, including, Schweitzer,  Sakharov, Sadat and Begin, Lech Wałęsa, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter (1901)
  • Thailand adopted a Constitution, becoming a constitutional monarchy (1932)
  • The UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rightssee below  (1948)
  • 50 years ago today, the Grateful Dead played their first concert, at the Fillmore, in San Francisco (1965)
  • Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President of Egypt Anwar Sadat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1978)
  • President Reagan declared this date Human Rights Day in the US (1986 )
  • Mongolia‘s democratic movement was established, which peacefully changed the second oldest communist country into a democratic society (1989)International_Space_Station_NASA
  • 100 British hostages held by Saddam Hussein for 4 months were freed (1990)
  • Six astronauts entered the new International Space Station, becoming the first guests to stay in the outpost 250 miles up (1998)

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights there are a total of 30 articles outlining people’s human rights, but the most important principles declared are considered to be the following:

The right to life, liberty and security of person
The right to an education
The right to employment, paid holidays, protection against unemployment, and social security
The right to participate fully in cultural life
Freedom from torture or cruel, inhumane treatment or punishment
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Freedom of expression and opinion

Photo of Analytical Engine by Bruno Barral, CC