Ada Lovelace
Citing the likely objections of Ada Lovelace to his question “Can machines think?,” Alan Turing devoted a subsection of his “Computing Machinery” paper to her thoughts on the likelihood of an “engine” that might compose or weave according to its own criteria. It is a remarkable “conversation” in which Turing anticipates and counters what he imagines would be Lovelace’s objections, nearly 100 years after her death.  

Lovelace was a mathematician, scientist and writer who worked closely with Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine (a mechanical calculator), and the Analytical Engine (essentially a programmable computer). In 1843, in her notes for a published translation of Babbage’s 1840 lecture on the Analytical Engine, Lovelace speculated on the engine’s potential use on things other than numbers:

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

In other notes, Lovelace expresses doubt that the engine could be truly creative or produce something new. Rather, she believes that the engine would compose only what it was instructed to compose. Turing acknowledges why Lovelace might make this objection, but also offers a counter argument: we should be open to “surprises” when considering the capacity of machines, and that creativity (a “creative mental act”) was certainly not out of the question, especially in the case of a “learning machine.”

Text To Speech

“Note A” to “A Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage” by L.F. Menabrea, published in Richard Taylor ed., Scientific Memoirs, Selected from the Transactions of Foreign Academies of Science and Learned Societies, and from Foreign Journals, 1843, Photo: History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries