Author's Introduction: This article was originally published in the Aquarius/Pisces 1996 issue of Welcome to Planet Earth magazine. It tells the astrological story of Countess Ada Lovelace, often called the first "computer programmer."
By Gloria R. Lalumia
Did you succumb to the massive Windows ‘95 launch in August? You know, the $200 million dollar extravaganza featuring the Rolling Stones, Jay Leno, and the Empire State Building lit up in Microsoft’s colors? Or maybe you waited to celebrate this past holiday season with a new system fully preloaded with Bill Gates’ latest blockbuster.
While you were celebrating, did you take time out to remember a couple of other landmark events in computer history? I’m talking about the 180th anniversary of the birth of Ada, Countess of Lovelace (born December 10, 1815) and her publication of technical annotations just over 150 years ago describing Charles Babbage’s "Analytical Engine."
Ada, who? "Analytical" what? Ada Lovelace is often called the first "computer programmer," while Babbage is now credited with designing one of earliest ancestors of the modern digital computer. His often misunderstood invention, a prototype for a calculating machine incorporating many of the features that characterize modern machines, included, for example, a section called "the store," designed for holding numbers and partial results to be processed--the equivalent of a modern machine’s memory.
Ada was one of the few among Babbage’s contemporaries that actually understood his invention. In her annotations, Ada explained the mathematical principles and devised the first set of instructions or "program" to illustrate the power of a machine that would receive data, perform complicated operations, and produce output, including print. Furthermore, "without knowing that such functions would become the soul of the modern day computer, Ada noted the engine’s potential to do sub-routines, loo ps and to change course midstream." (Baum, p. 94) Without ever seeing the engine built, she understood the unique way in which the machine would control itself int ernally, make choices, and retrieve stored numbers. In 1980 the U.S. Department of Defense would honor the work of the Countess of Lovelace by naming its standardized computer language "Ada."
Ada may also have anticipated the question of artificial intelligence. She wrote that the machine "can follow analysis, but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relationships or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with. The Analytical Engine has no pretensions to originate anything."
One hundred fifty years later, best-selling author Clifford Stoll seems to echo Ada’s words when he states that "No spreadsheet can create data where there is none. No word processor can help me write better. No on-line database c an answer the tough questions...those which do not yet have answers...A faster computer may let me build more models, but fundamentally, it won’t give me a deeper understanding..." (Silicon Snake Oil, p. 103)
Who was this imaginative woman who seemed to peer into the future yet was overlooked in the history of science for nearly 100 years? Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was the daughter of the 6th Lord Byron, famed not only for his poetry, but also for his scandalous behavior. Just after her birth, Ada’s mother separated from him, and he left for exile in Italy. She was obsessed with dominating Ada and determined that her child "should be saved from the evils of paternal heredity." (Moore p. 8) Lady Byron, whom Byron called the "Mathematical Medea," resolved to direct Ada from the age of 5 toward all her interests, notably mathematics, in an effort to discipline and control any tendencies Ada might have toward the passionate and reckless characteristics of her infamous father.
Ada’s fiery nature is evident in the Moon/ASC conjunction in Aries, her 1st House Mars in Aries, and the Sagittarian stellium involving Sun/Neptune and Uranus/Mercury conjunctions spread across the 8th and 9th Houses. By the age of 8 her mother described her as "cheerful, open and ingenuous” with well developed powers of observation, but not very persevering and with a tendency to be impetuous which was now sufficiently "under control." (Moore, p. 26)
The Moon and Saturn
But control came at a price. With her Moon sextile Saturn and her 12th House Moon ruling the 4th House cusp, Ada was emotionally vulnerable, frustrated, and described as lonely and isolated (she was said to have few friends and refused to kiss anyone). The harsh discipline and suppression of her will created tremendous internal conflict as she tried to handle her emotional needs for freedom (Moon trine Uranus), deal with her attempts to feel secure in her life direction (Moon square MC), and cope with her unsettled family environment (Moon conjunct ASC). Between the ages of 14 and 17, she was crippled with symptoms that today seem to have been due to hysteria perhaps brought on as means of escaping her mother’s domination.
But with three children born before the age of 24 her initial interest in his work was diverted by family duties. Over time she began to withdraw from society, then become more and more indifferent to her domestic duties as she developed a burning desire for a career of her own with little freedom to pursue it. She was by now harboring limitless aspirations, wanting to be a great mathematician. Her fiery nature led her to focus on fantastic possibilities. At first, she aspired covertly, but later she openly wanted fame and her ambition was to be more famous than her father, be it in mathematics, music (she was an accomplished harpist), or poetry.
Planetary Placements and Aspects
With 9 planets located above the horizon, Ada was clearly oriented to the world at large and eager to have her talents and accomplishments noticed. Her desire for fame is also clearly delineated by two Super Aspects from Magi Astrology. The Sun parallel Uranus (fame) and Neptune (artistry and talent of all kinds) fueled her resolve to "develop God’s truth for the use of mortals--and to leave a name." (Baum, p. 56) Her restless mind (Moon trine 8th house Mercury), mathematical capabilities, value of knowledge, and desire to be taken seriously (Saturn parallel Mercury) drove her compulsive "quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind to comprehend the Universe" (Pluto parallel Mercury). (Moore, p. 123)
The T-square formed by 12th House Pluto and the Nodal axis highlights the stresses on Ada as she struggled with her innate desire to seek understanding (South Node in Sagittarius in the 9th House with her Sun/Neptune conjunction) and the need to learn how to cope in her day to day environment meeting social and family demands (North Node in Gemini in the 3rd House). Pluto square the Sun and parallel Saturn emphasize the struggles against the roadblocks around her, notably society’s attitude toward women who pursued intellectual work, her dominating mother, and an older husband and his social obligations, all of which produced wearying mental conflicts.
In 1839, after the birth of her last child and hungry for knowledge, Ada began approaching Babbage, hoping to assist him. Her mathematical endeavors were again interrupted in 1841 when she learned that her father had been guilty of a sexual relationship with a half sister. Although she had guessed the truth long ago, she took this revelation very badly. After this point, her mental state seemed to go through phases that appear related to whatever information about her father was circulating. Acquaintances noted that she “seemed peculiar, in an eccentric orbit all her own” and that her manner and talk were “not those of a woman of the world”, descriptions consistent with her 9th House Uranus/Mercury in Sagittarius squaring 12 House Chiron in Pisces.
By 1842, she was again longing for the stability of the mathematical world and to accomplish this, she renewed her association with Babbage, offering her assistance at "systematic and continued intellectual labour." (Moore, p. 148) As a surprise for Babbage, she translated L.F. Menabrea’s description of the Analytical Engine from the French. At his suggestion, she completed the "Notes," which were 3 times longer than the original description, in the Fall of 1843. Babbage described her as a "fairy assistant" because of her mental dexterity and skill at describing the powers of a machine that he would never be able to build.
After this point her moods began to swing from elation to fatalism as health problems and a reliance on opium and brandy to relieve pain accentuated her "Byronic" tendencies. Her desire to "spread her wings" in relationships (7th House Jupiter conjunct Venus in Scorpio) manifested as she began openly flirting with gentlemen, culminating in an affair with a man who described her as a "delusive and beautiful light flickering...over every dangerous pitfall, gentle, good, beautiful, gifted...bold, f irm, and much to be loved...BUT WAYWARD, WANDERING...DELUDED." (Moore, p. 161)
Ultimately, she made peace with the memory of her father by visiting the ancestral home, declaring that she loved "the venerable old place and all my wicked forefathers!" (Moore, p. 266) Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer (a result of years of emotional repression?). Eve n through her final illness, Babbage, according to Ada’s husband, "was a constant intellectual companion and she ever found in him a match for her powerful understanding, their constant philosophical discussions begetting only an i ncreased esteem and mutual liking." (Moore, p. 299) As she lay dying, her thoughts turned toward her father. She finally passed away just before her 37th birthday on November 28, 1852. Her request that her remains be laid close to those of her father were honored, with her casket touching his. In the end the true fire and passion of Ada’s "Byronic" nature were finally set free.
Baum, Joan. "The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron" Archon Books (The Shoestring Press), Hamden, CT, 1986.
Beardsley, Chuck. "The Lovelace Letter," Mechanical Engineering, January 1991.
Magi Society, The. "Astrology Really Works!" Hay House, Inc.,Carson, CA, 1995.
Moore, Doris Langley. "Ada, Countess of Lovelace--Byron’s Legitimate Daughter" John Murray Ltd., London, 1977.
Stoll, Clifford. "Silicon Snake Oil" Doubleday & Company, New York, 1994.
Ada Lovelace--The Blackwell Data Collection, father’s correspondence.
Charles Babbage--Noon chart, NCGR Journal, Spring 1994.
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