The Building Blocks of Technology
The legacy of Ada Lovelace as the world’s first programmer is especially remarkable because of the fact that she lived in the early 19th century during the industrial age, still over a century away from computing as we know it now. The machines being created around her were far from what we would now consider advanced, and they were much more dependent on mechanics and oiled gears than machines are now. Not only that, but the purpose of any given machine at this time was to get one specific job done. The fact that Ada understood the potential of many individual parts working together to not only compute but to create, speaks to her vision and genius. She envisioned the use of machines for purposes outside of industry, such as music and art. Had people like her not had ideas such as these, who knows if computer technology would have left the fields of science and academia. It’s thanks to these strokes of genius that we have the creation tools we as everyday people can enjoy.
As a modern person, my understanding of how computers work is fairly limited, as it is especially difficult to learn about a machine whose functions are mostly invisible or tiny. It was fascinating to learn about how Babbage’s Analytical Engine functioned completely by cogs and gears that physically move in order to make calculations. Ada understood how many individual parts of a machine can work together to perform larger tasks in a way that far exceeded her time, and she understood how to harness this potential using written programs. While Babbage’s contribution to the computer world was important, it was certainly different from how Lovelace’s work would change the way we harness the power of computers. She learned about what he created, and saw a way to build upon the concept of many small parts — comparable to binary ones and zeros in modern computers — to perform many different tasks and creations.
Philip Emeagwali was another key player in the speeding up of computers and the development of the internet. He grew up in Nigeria, which influenced the path that he took to his big contribution to the development of the internet. Conflict over oil resources played a large role in the Nigerian civil war, which Emeagwali and his family were massively affected by. Through his education and career, he became interested in using computers to locate untapped, underground oil reservoirs. In this process of using the clunky and expensive computers of the day to do research, he set out to find a way to streamline the process. Inspired by bees in a hive, he discovered a way to accomplish the same computing tasks using many small microprocessors, rather than a few expensive machines. This opened the door for the beginning of internet communication, as well as the creation of much smaller computers.
Overall, the reading and viewing this week helped me see how the advanced technologies that we have today are created through the work of many individuals over time. Each person (credited or uncredited) who contributed to this evolution of technology had their own focus or their own motivations for their creations, but each small contribution played an essential role in building what we have today in computers and the internet.