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Ada Lovelace: The World's First Computer Programmer

Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was known as a writer, but she was also as a very gifted mathematician. She made history when she worked on a mechanical, general-purpose computer known as the analytical engine with Charles Babbage. Lovelace realized the machine would be able to do more than just pure calculations, so she published the first algorithm it would carry out. Many credit Lovelace as the first person to recognize what is possible to achieve with computers and consider her to be the world's first computer programmer.

Painting of Ada Lovelace as a child

Painting of Ada Lovelace as a child

Early Years

Augusta Ada Lovelace was born on December 19th, 1815. She was born with the title of Countess of Lovelace. Her father was Lord George Gordon Byron, and Ada was his only "legitimate" child. Her mother was Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. The marriage was not a happy experience for either one of Lovelace's parents, and they divorced a few weeks after she was born. A few months after the divorce, her father left for England, and she never saw him again. Lord Byron died in Greece when Ada was eight years old.

Education

lovelace's education was different when compared to that of other aristocratic girls in the mid-1800s. Lovelace's mother was determined that her daughter would be taught science and mathematics, despite the fact that it was not common for women to be educated in these subjects.

Lovelace's mother believed if her daughter was subjected to challenging and rigorous studies, she would not develop her father's unpredictable behavior. Lovelace was also made to lie still for long periods of time, as her mother thought this would help Ada develop self-control.

Ada demonstrated a talent for languages as well as numbers. She was taught lessons by the family's doctor William Lovelace as well as the Scottish mathematician and astronomer Mary Somerville. The social reformer William Frend also provided Ada with instruction.

Painting of Charles Babbage

Painting of Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage

Ada's success in her education and social activities made it possible for her to meet with several notable scientists of her time. This includes Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Andrew Cross, and Charles Babbage—she was able to meet Babbage through Mary Sommerville, who was one of her private tutors.

Ada would describe herself to people as a metaphysician and analyst. As a teenager, her impressive mathematical skills made it possible for her to develop a friendship with Charles Babbage. Ada first met Babbage in June of 1833 when she was 17 years old, and she expressed an interest in the analytical engine he was working on.

The First Computer Program

In 1840, Charles Babbage was given the opportunity to give a seminar at the University of Turin. The topic would be his analytical engine. Many found the seminar to be inspirational, and it was later translated into French by a young Italian engineer named Luigi Menabrea. A transcript of the lecture was published by the Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève. Charles Wheatstone was a friend of Charles Babbage, and he gave Ada a commission to translate the paper written in French by Menabrea into English.

It took Ada approximately a year to perform the translation. She also augmented her translation of the paper with notes, which were more detailed than the paper written by Menabrea. In September 1843, Ada's translation was published in an edition of Taylor's Scientific Memoirs. Her notes were labeled alphabetically, and she described an algorithm for Babbage's analytical engine computer that would enable it to compute Bernoulli numbers.

Ada's notes are considered to be the first algorithm ever published and designed specifically to be used with a computer. The analytical engine was never completed, however, so unfortunately, Ada's program was never officially tested.

An analytical engine

An analytical engine

The Analytical Engine

In her notes, Ada clearly states her views about the significant difference between previous calculating machines and the analytical engine, which used punched cards to make calculations. The ability to solve problems of any level of complexity was what set the analytical engine far apart from any other similar type of calculating machine at the time.

Ada stated it could perform more tasks than just those involving numbers. It could also define mutual relations in the fields of operation, science, and more. The analytical engine would be able to manipulate symbols, making it possible for a fundamental shift from mere calculation to actual computation.

Painting of Ada Lovelace

Painting of Ada Lovelace

Personal Life

Ada Lovelace married William, Eighth Baron King, on July 8th, 1835. This gave her the title of Countess of Lovelace, and her husband became the Earl of Lovelace. The couple had three children together, and Ada's husband supported her academic aspirations. They were able to socialize with many of the top minds of their time, including writer Charles Dickens and scientist Michael Faraday.

Death

Ada Lovelace died on November 27, 1852. It is believed she died of uterine cancer. After finishing her work on the analytical engine, her health began to deteriorate, and she suffered from a few ailments at the time. Ada had been in pain for many years, and in the end, it is said that she forgave her father for abandoning her as a young child. She was buried, at her own request, in Nottingham at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene next to Lord Byron. It is possible to see her grave marker to this day.

Poster describing Ada Lovelace's achievements

Poster describing Ada Lovelace's achievements

Legacy

The contributions of Ada Lovelace to the world of computer science were not known until the 1950s. B.V. Bowden is responsible or reintroducing Lovelace's notes into the science world in the publication Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense developed a computer language and named it “Ada" to acknowledge Lovelace's contributions to the field. Senator Ron Wyden submitted a bill to the United States Senate on July 27th, 2018, for October 9th to be designated National Ada Lovelace Day. It was passed with unanimous consent.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Readmikenow (author) on September 03, 2020:

Nikhil, thanks.

Nikhil Sharma from India on September 03, 2020:

This was such a fascinating life story of Ada, the world's first computer programmer that I'm sure most of the people didn't know about. Thank you for bringing this information to us and sharing her interesting story.

I'd be happy to read more of your articles. Let's connect together on HubPages.

Readmikenow (author) on August 21, 2020:

MG, thanks.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 21, 2020:

A fascinating account. I didn't know Lord Byron had a daughter. It's a pity she died young even by the longevity in that age. Interesting to read the article.

Readmikenow (author) on August 21, 2020:

Flourish, thanks. She is an incredible story.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 20, 2020:

I had not heard of her and am so glad I read your article. I’m glad there’s a day I her honor.

Readmikenow (author) on August 20, 2020:

Liz, thanks. I agree. I'm sure with her mind she could have done many more amazing things.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 20, 2020:

This is a fascinating biographical article. I had not heard of Ada Lovelace before. It is sad that she died at a relatively young age.