Everyone here does remember that Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, invented computer programing? Her good buddy Charles Babbage invented the Difference Engine, but couldn’t get it to do much more than the obvious add, subtract, multiply, and divide. When Ada invented the computer algorithm, she merged the algebraic mathematical procedures structure (to achieve a result, you have a sequence of steps to preform with a specific order, each of which does a small segment of the complete task, and holds the results for final assembly) with Babbage’s mechanical analytical engine.
She also created the concept of the non-volatile storage medium in which you could save your programs or results for reuse later, which from the day she invented it in the 1830s until a better method was devised in the 1970s meant punch cards. Just like the Algorithm, it wasn’t a new idea; punch cards had been used to control mechanical processes for several hundred years at that point, specifically looms. In fact, the first punch cards were only used to channel the thread you wanted to the spindle you wanted it to be processed by, using a notch on the edge of the card to guide it to its destination.
But like all technologies, it evolved; and by the 1880s census the punch cards as modified by Ada were being used to tabulate how many of who lived where more efficiently than ever. That cut the governments processing time down to a fraction of what it had been, and ushered in the first real taste of what would later be described as Big Brother when Huxley got around to writing. It also encouraged the government of the time to dump a lot of money into the whole mechanical tabulating industry, since they saw a reduction in their costs for statistical gathering and processing of census data in the regions where such tools were available. While not exactly the first worm that fed on its own tail, the cycle of calculation improvements (from both hardware and software improvements), generating better results faster than before, and resulting in additional funding to improve the hardware and software, was one of my favorite early examples of a positive feedback loop.