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lunedì 15 febbraio 2016

What is a computer for, Milady?

1840, Ockham Park, the residence of Lady Ada Lovelace in Surrey, England
Lady Lovelace and Charles Babbage are meeting for tea in the library after Babbage's journey to Turin

B. Good afternoon, Lady Lovelace.
A. Good afternoon, Professor Babbage.
B. I'm glad to see you again.
A. So am I.
B. I was looking forward to this meeting, Milady. I feel you and I have much to discuss.
A. It sounds you're back from something very stimulating.
B. It was so, actually. But what about you? How's your health?
A. Let's drop this: never explain, never complain.
B. Well then, how are you spending your time here in the country?
A. Pretty boring, I must admit. Not much excitement away from London, not even horse races.
B. You look rather relaxed, though.
A. I have plenty of time to think over and over again the subject we both care for: the computing machine.
B. That's sounds quite intriguing then. I should start telling you all about my trip to Turin and the interesting people I met.
A. Let me just send for another cup of tea and I'll be eager to listen.
A waiter brings more tea, lady Lovelace gobbles a couple of shortbreads.
Charles Babbage gives a full and detailed report of the many discussions carried on with the mathematicians in Turin.
Lady Lovelace listens patiently.
B. Milady, it was so exciting to meet with others so involved with the same research subjects as ours!
A. I guess so.
B. The Piedmontese are nice people, too. I was invited to social events and even travelled to Racconigi, the King's favorite residence.
A. How was it?
B. I met King Carlo Alberto there. We had interesting discussions about science and the changing world.
A. The world will change a lot thanks to our computing machine.
B. You should see the place in Racconigi: so magnificent, elegant and severe at the same time. There are vast and marvelously kept gardens sprinkled by clear sun.
A. You sound you didn't miss England, don't you?
B. Well… Piedmont is a place any Englishman can easily adapt to.
A. Very well. Let's carry on with our discussion.
B. I've gathered a lot of new hints on how to build the analytical engine, you see, and lots of new calculations to perform.
A. Charles, you and your fellow mathematicians are obsessed by calculations. I don't deny their importance, but there's much more to a computer than calculus!
B. What are you saying, Milady? You, the Enchantress of Numbers?
A. You see, our analytical engine can manipulate numbers, numbers can be interpreted as symbols, symbols stand for something else.
B. What?
A. A machine can do much more than performing calculations. A computer could see colours, play music, comfort people during gloomy days…
B. (getting nervous) Ada, what are you talking about? Did you take those opium pills again?
A. Never mind. You are so stuck to your first idea of the computing machine that you can't see beyond.
B. What do you mean?
A. Can you reckon the full blooming of our analytical engines? Can you imagine when computers will be able to talk to each other? Can you see their power to transform the way mankind behaves?
B. But… We were discussing on how to make a machine perform differential equations.
A. Of course you did. Mathematics is the queen, every other thought stems from her.
B. Exactly.
A. Well, you worry about solving differential equations. I'll figure out what happens next.
B. Ok. That settles it.
A. Good. Where are all your notes and drawings of the computing machine?
B. My drawings have been stored in a trunk and will be delivered in a few days. They are so voluminous, you know.
A. One day, when computing machines have better performances and are connected to each other, you won't need to carry tons of paper.
B. What do you mean?
A. Never mind. Did you take notes while in Turin?
B. Not really, not me at least. However, a young and brilliant mathematician, Luigi Menabrea, is writing a pamphlet. Now I have only his minutes of our meetings.
A. That's good. Can I see them?
B. Of course, my dear. Here they are.
A. Very good. I see it's written in French … and you don't speak French.
B. But you do, my dear. You'll be the one to translate these notes in English.
A. Me?
B. Who else can master numbers and literature at the same time? And don't forget to add all comments we discussed earlier this afternoon.
A. So I will do the work and you will take the credit for it, will you not?
B. Don't worry about that, Ada. Maybe that's true for the time being, but give them a couple of centuries and you'll be famous and more worshipped as I am.
A. Oh well…

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