Meet the woman bringing the magic of Ada Lovelace to the masses

11 Oct 2016

Zoe Philpott, interactive storyteller, Ada.Ada.Ada. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

To mark Ada Lovelace Day, we look back at Inspirefest 2016 to hear interactive storyteller Zoe Philpott talk about her show Ada.Ada.Ada that showcases the talents of the world’s first programmer.

Those who attended the fringe element of Inspirefest 2016 will remember Philpott donning an interactive LED dress as an ode to Ada Lovelace, with the aim of inspiring future generations to follow in her footsteps.

Despite only living to the age of 36, Lovelace achieved quite a lot. She was a highly gifted mathematician, culminating with her being credited as creator of the first algorithm for a machine.

This work was based on the developments of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which was first proposed in 1837 and is widely considered the first design for a computer that wasn’t actually built until the 1940s.

This was by no means an easy task as Lovelace went about it the hard way, translating an Italian article about the Analytical Engine written by engineer Luigi Menabrea, which led to a huge catalogue of notes.

It is within these series of notes – that she simply called Notes­­ – that Lovelace created this first algorithm. Now, hundreds of years later, she is still considered a role model for women scientists globally.

Philpott is certainly one of these fans and prior to the debut of her show, she took to the Inspirefest stage to discuss the importance of promoting science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM).

Also speaking as part of a wider discussion on STEAM, Philpott said during her keynote that her own experiences of trying to merge the worlds of art and science have only really become possible in the past decade or so.

Recalling her university days, Philpott spoke of how in 1991, her tutor dismissed the idea of her learning coding at university.

Describing the conversation, Philpott said on stage: “[The tutor] said: ‘You’re an artistic type and you’re a girl. Don’t you think you should do philosophy?’”

Lovelace is the original woman of STEAM

This didn’t stop her from eventually making it into the world of tech. One of her early career highlights came in 1999 when she founded Tornado Ahead, a webcasting website that preceded – and did much of the same stuff as – YouTube today.

In concluding her keynote, Philpott spoke of what inspired her to do her one-woman show on Lovelace.

“What I noticed when walking through central London was that there were no statues of women. They were mainly men who died 200 years ago that probably killed a lot of people. Where are the women in history?”

With a newfound desire to tell the story of women throughout history, Philpott decided what better place to start than Lovelace, the “original woman in STEAM” who called herself an “analyst and a metaphysician”.

“She likened computers to weaving algebraic patterns like a loom weaves flowers and leaves,” Philpott added.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic