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Experiments in Digital Scholarship: people, technology, and Ada Lovelace

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Mawby Room

Kellogg College

60-62 Banbury Road

Oxford

OX2 6PN

United Kingdom

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Seminar by Pip Willcox, Head of the Centre for Digital Scholarship Co-director, Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School Bodleian Libraries

Organised by Alejandra Gonzalez-Beltran (alejandra.gonzalezbeltran@kellogg.ox.ac.uk)


Abstract

Our use of digital technologies and methods to transform our working practices, and how we communicate research, is well established. Two years ago the Bodleian Libraries’ Centre for Digital Scholarship opened with a mission to bring together people, technology and ideas. We have experimented with different approaches in sharing research methods and outcomes with multidisciplinary audiences, and in catalyzing and enabling new research and study. This talk reflects on some of the Centre’s activity, and focuses in particular on our work in one project: the EPSRC-funded Fusing Audio and Semantic Technologies.

Taking inspiration from Ada Lovelace’s imagination of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, we explored how Lovelace might have developed her ideas about the machine as partner in the creative process. In the 200 years since Ada Lovelace’s birth, she has been celebrated, neglected, and taken up as a symbol for a number of causes. This talk traces some of paths that ideas of Lovelace have taken, and revisits her imagination of Charles Babbage’s proposed but never constructed steam-powered general purpose computer. Her imaginative engagement with science, and especially mathematics, led her to a deep understanding of the Engine, including her widely cited description that “the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent”.

This claim, alongside composer Emily Howard’s operatic ‘Ada sketches’, are the inspiration for a series of experiments into the process of co-creativity with machines, producing music from maths. Using the mathematics of Lovelace’s time and a software simulation of the Engine, our experiments included creating a web application, Numbers into Notes, and constructing an ‘arduino orchestra’ to simulate multiple, connected Analytical Engines, and a musical performance based on crowdsourced algorithmic fragments.

These experiments play at once into generative design and into alternative histories of algorithms and mechanisms, an approach we frame as Experimental Humanities. Through making, through prototyping and co-design, we close-read and follow the thought processes Lovelace and Babbage recorded, extending beyond what was practicable in the nineteenth century. Our exploration also touches on creativity, as anticipated by Lovelace, examined by Turing, and recast in Boden’s “Lovelace questions”, and manifest today in the fields of computational creativity and creative computing.

After the talk, you are welcome to have lunch at the Kellogg Hub.


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Mawby Room

Kellogg College

60-62 Banbury Road

Oxford

OX2 6PN

United Kingdom

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