Ada Lovelace is the world’s first computer programmer. She was the first person to write a program - a series of commands that Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer could use to do complicated calculations. Ada believed machines could do more than just math and correctly predicted many of their future uses, such as creating graphics and music.
Lady Byron was her father. Lady Byron herself was no slouch when it came to what we now call STEM. She was particularly interested in astronomy and mathematics: Byron called her his “Princess of Parallelograms”.
Lady Byron was worried that some of Lord Byron’s famously lascivious behavior might rub off on her little daughter, so she made the decision to build a math and science curriculum for Ada to follow from the age of 4 to distract her from more worldly concerns – vanishingly unusual for a 19th century English noblewoman.
Ada also had an important female mentor: Mary Somerville, a Scottish mathematician and astronomer, who, elected at the same time as Caroline Herschel, was one of the first two women to be made a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Ada Lovelace was a musician as well as a scientist, and worked on musical compositions based on numbers, an application which she intended for the Analytical Engine.
After her death, Ada Lovelace’s contributions to science were forgotten – until 1953, when her notes were published by B.V. in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. Since then she’s had a programming language (Ada) named after her, many books written about her – and we celebrate her, and other women in STEM, every year.
'The more I study, the more insatiable do I feel my genius for it to be.'
'If you can't give me poetry, can't you give me poetical science?'
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was born on December 10, 1815. Her father, Lord George Gordon Byron, was a poet, and her mother was Lady Anne Isabella Byron.
Ada’s mother decided that she should learn math and science and appointed Ada’s tutors. This was very unusual; at that time, girls were only expected to learn music, singing, dancing, drawing, painting, French and needlework.
Ada aged 4
Despite these setbacks, Ada continued her studies. From a very young age Ada Lovelace showed a genius for math. As a teenager, a famous mathematician called Augustus De Morgan taught her math. Even then, he could spot her talent for math.
Ada and the Analytical Engine
Aged 18, Ada became friends with Charles Babbage, who was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University. He was also very impressed with her abilities and felt that she was better at math than even some men – a huge complement.
She became interested in his idea to design a computing machine called the ‘Analytical Engine’. But Ada did more than just translate the article – she also wrote lots of notes and detailed instructions for how the machine would work. In fact, Ada’s notes were so detailed that they were 3 times as long as the original article!
When the article was published, Ada did not use her full name on the article, just her initials ‘A.A.L’. The reason Ada did this was because she was being modest. At that time it was felt that if you strained your mind by doing too much math, you would become physically strained, and that if you were physically weak that meant you were mentally weak too.
Ada the Visionary
Ada’s notes included an ‘algorithm’ (step-by-step instructions) for using the Analytical Engine - the first set of instructions that could be used to control a computing device.
Ada also believed that mechanical computers would one day be able to do more than just sums. She correctly predicted many of their future uses, such as creating art graphics and music.
But the machine was never built. Lack of money meant that the computing machine never came to be. Unfortunately, in time, Ada became ill and later died at a young age of 36 in 1852, leaving behind a husband and three children.
Ada aged 17
Punch cards for the never completed Babbage Analytical Engine, and Charles Babbage
The World’s First Computer Programmer
For more than a hundred years after her death, Ada Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine were forgotten. But in 1953, her notes were discovered and republished. This time people recognized her achievements. Ada’s notes describe what we would now call a computer program, and she understood more than others of her era just what a computer could do.For this reason, Ada is the world’s first computer programmer.
Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, 1834- 1871. (Trial model)Analytical Engine, and Charles Babbage
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