10 December 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s unbuilt mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.  The Symposium is aimed at a broad audience of those interested in the history and culture of mathematics and computer science, presenting new discoveries for the Oxford archives, and other current scholarship on Lovelace’s life and work, and linking her ideas to contemporary thinking about mathematics, computing and artificial intelligence.

Registration is now closed. All events take place in the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford.  Travel information Other information contact Sarah Baldwin <>

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Ada Lovelace Symposium, Wednesday 9 December

9.30am                   Coffee, registration, and music: ‘Turning numbers into notes’
11.00am                Symposium Opening
Chair: Alexander Wolf, President of the Association for Computing Machinery and  Imperial College London
11.05am               Doron Swade, Royal Holloway, University of London
Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace: two visions of computing
Any celebration of Ada Lovelace as a ‘computing pioneer’ is founded on a single publication, her description, published in 1843, of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. To frame her work, I review the trajectory of Babbage’s calculating Engines, his motives for designing them, his aspirations for their use and, briefly, their design. I examine Ada Lovelace’s contribution to computing, and argue that she is fully deserving of her celebrated place but not necessarily for the reasons most frequently given.

11.50am               Bernard Sufrin, University of Oxford
Interpreting dreams of abstract machines
We place Ada’s ‘Translator’s Notes’ in context as a description of an idea of a general purpose computing machine and a method for programming it. Context will be established via more recent memorable descriptions of computing machinery and programming methods by computing pioneers from the following century.

12.30pm               Adrian Johnstone, Royal Holloway, University of London
Notions and notations: designing computers before computing
To a modern engineer, Babbage is an implausible anachronism. How could one individual design an object whose complexity so far exceeded that of contemporary machines that it would not be matched for over one hundred years? Babbage gave the answer himself: ‘By the aid of the Mechanical Notation’. I review Babbage’s remarkable notation, which enabled him to reason at an abstract level whilst also permitting direct mechanical realisation and the communication of design detail to his collaborators and workforce.

1.00pm                 Lunch provided in the Mathematical Institute
1.45pm                  Chair: Nick Woodhouse, President, Clay Mathematics Institute
1.45pm                  Ursula Martin, University of Oxford
Ada Lovelace, a scientist in the archives
At the core of our celebration of the bicentenary of Ada Lovelace is an extraordinary archive of family papers. They have formed the basis of the many articles and books that have created the Ada legend. Yet there is still much to be discovered. We focus on Lovelace’s scientific interests: a remarkable document in which she and Charles Babbage reflect on the Bridges of Konigsberg (with a magic square thrown in), and her reflections on photography.

2.30pm                  David De Roure, University of Oxford
                                   Emily Howard, Royal Northern College of Music
Turning numbers into notes
Composer Emily Howard will discuss her musical composition ‘Ada sketches’ with David De Roure. Part of ‘The Lovelace Trilogy’ composed in 2011, ‘Ada sketches’, a dramatic scena for mezzo-soprano (Ada), flute, clarinet and percussion with a libretto by Laura Tunbridge, explores a musical solution to a computation as solved in the hypothetical 1842 Analytical Engine.

3.00pm                  John Barnes, Ada software consultant
From Byron to the Ada programming language
The lecture starts with a few words about Byron and his bear at Trinity, Cambridge, then mentions an event involving Babbage and Brunel and safety on the railways. The main topic is the evolution of a language specifically concerned with programs where security and safety are of major concern and which is named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first programmer. Current application areas include airplane engine systems, air traffic control, railway signalling, space mission systems, and banking. The current version, Ada 2012, coupled with Spark 2014, has strong emphasis on program proof rather than the erratic activity called testing.

3.15pm                  The National Museum of Computing prizegiving: Write a letter to Ada competition

3.30pm                  Break, refreshments

4.00pm                  Chair: Sir Drummond Bone, Master of Balliol College
4.00pm                  Betty Toole, Author
 Ada Lovelace lives forever: Ada’s four questions
From my first article in 1987, ‘Poetical Science’ about Ada Lovelace in the Byron Journal, beautifully edited by Sir Drummond, to Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators in 2014, Ada’s theme of ‘poetical science’ has been explored. Walter sees, just as I see, that Ada’s heritage lives forever. How Ada approached information is for me the key to understanding her contribution. It is not the answers which count but the questions. Ada asked many questions but in this presentation I will focus on her four questions: What is the Source? What does it mean? What if? and Why not?

4.45pm                  Richard Holmes, British Academy
‘Will you concede me Poetical Science?’
Besides her celebrated contribution to the field of computing, Ada Lovelace had a broad interest in the science and technologies of the day, knew the work of many of its Victorian luminaries, and during her short, troubled, but vivid life explored fascinating post-Romantic ideas about the nature of discovery and the imagination, which make a significant link between science and poetry. I will look at some of these surprising connections.

5.45pm               Session ends

Conference reception and dinner, Bodleian Library and  Balliol College

Ada Lovelace Symposium, Thursday 10 December

9.00am                 Chair: Vicki Hanson, Vice-President of the Association for  Computing Machinery; University of Dundee, Rochester Institute of Technology
9.00am                  June Barrow-Green, Open University
Pythagoras to pacifism: mathematics and archives
Mathematical material can turn up in archives in different, and sometimes unexpected, ways. What looks like a doodle might turn out to have mathematical significance but it takes the eye of a mathematical expert to recognize it. Likewise, non-mathematical material can turn up in archives devoted to mathematicians, and hence might be ‘lost’ to, say, the cultural historian. In this talk, I shall describe some mathematical archives and some of the issues associated with them.

9.30am                  Julia Markus, Hofstra University
The early education of Ada Byron
Precocious Ada Byron was educated by tutors supervised by her single mother Lady Byron, herself a gifted mathematician and pioneer in progressive education, who had previously established the first Infants School in England. The myth that Lady Byron kept Ada from poetry will be dispelled and the mother-daughter relationship will be seen as a psychological spur to Ada’s early experiments in steam-propelled engines of flight.

10.00am               Christopher Hollings, University of Oxford
 The mathematical correspondence of Ada Lovelace and Augustus De Morgan
During the years 1840–1, Ada Lovelace corresponded with the prominent mathematician Augustus De Morgan, who tutored her in a range of mathematical subjects, including algebra, trigonometry and elementary calculus. Previous readings of this correspondence have resulted in wildly differing assessments of her mathematical abilities, but without any in-depth analysis of the mathematics. In this talk, I will report on a recent new study of the mathematics Ada Lovelace was learning with De Morgan. I will provide what I hope will at last be an accurate unbiased evaluation of her mathematical proficiency.

10.30am               Break, refreshments

11.00am               Chair: Sally Shuttleworth, Faculty of English, University of Oxford
11.00am               Elizabeth Bruton, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
Enchantress of numbers or a mere debugger?: a brief history of cultural and academic understandings of Ada Lovelace
The recently published comic by Sydney Padua The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage features a fictionalised version of the two historic characters, albeit a version based on contemporary material, and is the latest popular cultural representation of Ada Lovelace. To mark the 200th anniversary of Lovelace’s birth, I will review and explore academic and popular representations of Ada Lovelace and engage with the controversy and debate about Lovelace’s claims as first computer programmer.

11.30am               Imogen Forbes-Mcphail, University of California, Berkeley
The Analytical Engine and the Aeolian harp
In her conceptualization of mathematics as a pursuit full of ‘intrinsic beauty’, as a language which might be used to ‘read’ or decipher the world, and even exert power over reality, we can discern the influence of the Romantics in Lovelace’s thought. Lovelace, additionally, entertained literary ambitions of her own, and was intrigued by the possibility that Babbage’s engines might be adapted to produce works of art themselves. Reading this interest in the light of Romantic anxieties regarding the mechanization or automatization of the processes of the poetic mind (roused by Hartley’s associationism and often symbolized in the figure of the Aeolian harp) this paper contextualizes Lovelace’s work on the engines against the backdrop of Romantic thought surrounding the power of poetry and the nature of original composition.

12.00pm               Sydney Padua, Graphic Artist and Animator
 Imaginary engines
Sydney Padua’s cult webcomic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, now a bestselling graphic novel, combines extensive research with alternate-universe comic-book escapes, where the mechanical computer is finally completed and used to build runaway economic models, defeat spelling errors, and of course, fight crime. In this talk she will tell the story of these two fascinating and brilliant eccentrics, and discuss her process of primary-source research and creative transformation. She will also display her 3D animations of how the Analytical Engine would have looked and operated, some of the first visualisations ever created of that extraordinary machine.

12.45pm               Lunch provided in the Mathematical Institute

1.30pm                  Chair: Michael Wooldridge, Head of the Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford
1.30pm                  Judith Grabiner, Pitzer College
Mathematics and culture: geometry and its ‘Figures in the air’
Euclid’s geometry was long seen as the model of certainty. It trained the mind, drew the soul from the changing to the real, described art and architecture, upheld the natural and social order. It supported Newtonian science and embodied Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason. Yet it had a tragic flaw. Mathematicians, ancient and Enlightenment-era, Christian and Muslim and Jewish, worked in vain to fix things. The nineteenth century saw radical change, producing new ideas of space, destroying the unchallengeable authority of mathematics, revolutionizing art, making relativity physics possible, and helping create modernism. We’ll see how.

2.15pm                  Moshe Vardi, Rice University
Humans, machines, and the future of work
While AI has been proven to be more difficult than believed by its early pioneers, its progress over the past 50 years suggests that Simon may have been right when he wrote in 1956 ‘machines will be capable… of doing any work a man can do.’ I do believe that by 2045 machines will be able to do a very significant fraction of the work that humans can do. The following question, therefore, seems to be of paramount importance: If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?

3.00pm                  Break and Birthday cake

3.30pm                  Panel: ‘Enchantress of Abstraction and Bride of Science: can women scientists escape being icons, role-models and heroines.’
Chair: Muffy Calder, University of Glasgow
Valerie Barr, Union College
Suw Charman-Anderson, Founder of Ada Lovelace Day
Murray Pittock, University of Glasgow
Cheryl Praeger, University of Western Australia
4.30pm                  Event closes

Symposium speakers, session chairs and panellists

  • John Barnes, expert on the ADA programming language
  • Valerie  Barr, Union College, computer scientist and chair ACM’s Committee on Women in Computing
  • June Barrow-Green, Open University, historian of 19th-century mathematics
  • Sir Drummond Bone, Master Balliol College and Byron expert
  • Elizabeth Bruton, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, historian of technology
  • Muffy Calder, University of Glasgow, computer scientist
  • Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Ada Lovelace Day, a global celebration of women in STEM
  • Imogen Forbes-Macphail, Berkeley, PhD student on Lovelace, poetry and mathematics
  • Judith Grabiner, Pitzer College, historian and mathematician
  • Vicki Hanson, Rochester Institute of Technology, computer scientist and Vice-President ACM
  • Christopher Hollings, University of Oxford, historian of mathematics working on the Ada Lovelace archive
  • Richard Holmes, British Academy, biographer and author of The Age of Wonder
  • Adrian Johnstone, Royal Holloway University of London, computer scientist and historian
  • The Earl of Lytton, member of the House of Lords and descendant of Ada Lovelace
  • Julia Markus, Hofstra University, novelist, biographer and author of the recently published Lady Byron and Her Daughters
  • Ursula Martin, University of Oxford, mathematician and computer scientist
  • Sydney Padua, graphic artist, animator and author of the steampunk comic and book The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
  • Murray Pittock, University of Glasgow, cultural historian
  • Cheryl E Praeger, University of Western Australia, mathematician and Foreign Secretary, Australian Academy of Science
  • Soren Riis, Queen Mary University of London, mathematician
  • Dame Stephanie Shirley, businesswoman and philanthropist
  • Bernard Sufrin, University of Oxford, academic and expert on computer programming and its history
  • Doron Swade, museum curator and author, expert on computer pioneer Charles Babbage and his engines
  • Betty Toole, author Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers, the influential anthology of Lovelace’s correspondence
  • Moshe Vardi, Rice University, computer scientist and expert on logic and artificial intelligence
  • Mike Wooldridge, University of Oxford, computer scientist and head of Department of Computer Science
  • Alex Wolf, Imperial College London, computer scientist and President of the ACM

For those wishing to stay overnight, Oxford has many hotels and B&B options, as well as a limited amount of College rooms. We have provided a small selection of options below; this is not an exhaustive list and you may find other options elsewhere.

Research, partners and sponsors

The Symposium showcases research carried out under the following Oxford based projects:

  • ‘The Social Machine of Mathematics’, led by Professor Ursula Martin, and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council;
  • ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’, led by Professor Sally Shuttleworth, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council;
  • ‘Transforming Musicology’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and ‘Fusing Audio and Semantic Technologies’ funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, led in Oxford by Professor David De Roure.

We are delighted to partner with cs4fn; The National Museum of Computing; and the Computer History Museum, Silicon Valley
Within Oxford we gratefully acknowledge support from: the Bodleian Libraries, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of English, Mathematical Institute, Balliol College, Jesus College, Somerville College, Wadham College, the Oxford e-Research Centre, Oxford Women in Computer Science Society, and The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities.
We gratefully acknowledge sponsorship from: AdaCore, the Association for Computing Machinery, British Computer Society, Clay Mathematics Institute, Elsevier, Google, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the London Mathematical Society, and Taylor and Francis.