Amazing Woman: Ada Lovelace

In this exciting world where everything from our cars to our toaster is run by a computer, it’s nice to pay homage to those who made these modern conveniences possible.

Next in the Amazing Women series, we learn about a woman who as been referred to as the ‘prophet of the computer age’, Ada Lovelace.

Charming and fiendishly intelligent, Ada Lovelace deserves attention.

Daughter of the esteemed poet Lord Byron and his mathematically inclined wife Annabella Milbanke, Augusta Ada Byron (1815-1852) was already fit for a fascinating life from the day she was born. Her mother insisted that in her studies with a private tutor she also learn mathematics, in the hopes that, get this, she not fall into her father’s moody and unpredictable attitudes. Don’t forget, in this time period learning anything that even hinted at applied sciences was most unusual for a woman.

Difference engine at the London Science Museum built from Babbage’s design.

In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Babbage Engine – the first automatic computing machines also known as difference engines. These engines are used to tabulate polynomial functions.

Whoa, a little of my nerd popped right out there. Let me tuck that back in…

Long story short, she got to see one of these very early computing machines at the hands of Babbage himself in 1833 and it was magic. She was fascinated at the possibilities that such an engine could offer.

Still being a woman, marriage and motherhood interfered with her mathematical studies and she had to make do with studying about these mathematical engines in her spare time. (I totally understand the feeling – one of my darling children is calling me as I write this…)

One of these undertakings included translating an article on the Analytical Engine, in which she added extensive notes of her own. In fact, her notes were three times longer than the original article. The translation as well as her notes were published in 1843 in an English science journal under the initials A.A.L.

Within these notes is the very first description of a stepwise sequence of operations for solving certain mathematical problems. For this, Ada is considered ‘the first programmer’ to have graced our world.

Her speculations and analytical thinking pushed the boundaries of mathematics beyond merely numbers and into the realm of manipulating ideas and concepts, such as music.

Ada died young, at age 36, of uterine cancer.

Next time you fiddle with your phone, thank Ada for giving rise to the idea of computer programming.

References:


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