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Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace Photo

Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (better known as Ada Lovelace) was born in London on 10th December 1815. She was the daughter of the notorious poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. As brilliant as Lord Byron was as a poet, he was also extremely unstable and abandoned his fatherly duties as soon as Ada was born. Her mother was an intelligent, well-educated but a completely detached woman. She had absolutely no bonding or affection for Ada but did ensure that she received the best education possible at that time, which is why today Ada Lovelace is known to be the world’s first female computer programmer. Being a brilliant mathematician, Ada wrote the world’s first machine algorithm for a prototype computer which at the time was only on paper.

A Marriage of Minds

Ada’s fate changed from just being a decorative aristocrat to a name resonating in history for being the greatest of female mathematicians who ever lived when she was introduced to Charles Babbage on 5th June 1833, at the tender age of 17. Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a highly prestigious position once held by Isaac Newton and more recently by the late Stephen Hawking.

Babbage was greatly intrigued by Lady Byron and her daughter’s interest in mathematics and so invited them to see his calculating machine called the “Difference Engine.” The machine was designed to calculate lengthy mathematical calculations error free and fast.

Due to financial constraints the “Difference Engine” was never made, yet it captivated Ada to the point that she requested Babbage to share with her the blueprints of the machine to better understand how it worked.

Babbage was much impressed with Ada’s interest in math and her sharp mind and they kept corresponding for years, discussing math and computing. In 1842 Ada Lovelace came across Luigi Federico Menabrea’s French translation of a paper called “Sketch of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.” Ada took on the commission of translating this paper into English and in the process added to it her own notes which turned out to be even longer than Babbage’s own transcript. It was published in 1843.

Lovelace’s translation and notes made it quite clear that she understood the Analytical Engine as well as Babbage and knew how to make it perform as well. She suggested using the Bernoulli numbers system as the machine’s data input method to help it make accurate calculations. Ada understood that numbers could be used for more than just calculations and can be manipulated to do a number of different things. A true visionary of her time, Ada predicted that a machine like the Analytical Engine will one day be used for composing music, create graphic art and be used for the advancement of science, all of which is now being done. Babbage dubbed Ada Lovelace “The Enchantress of Numbers.”

Death and Legacy

Lovelace died of cancer in 1852, at the age of 36. If it is safe to say that Ada Lovelace was the mother of modern computing, then Charles Babbage is the father! Their child was later adopted and reared into adulthood by Alan Turing. The Pentagon and US military programmers named their own computing language Ada.

Today, more than 150 years later, Ada Lovelace is celebrated as one of the most brilliant women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, on the Ada Lovelace Day, celebrated every year on 13th October.

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