Who is Ada Lovelace? The story behind one of the finest minds in computing
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a chance to celebrate the achievements of mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, and those of countless other women around the world.
Ada Lovelace was one of the first to ever foresee what would become some of the founding principles of computers. In 1980, The US Department of Defence also called a computer language “Ada”, to honour her visionary intuitions.
Augusta Ada Byron (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was born in London from the union of the famous British poet Lord Byron and his wife Lady Wentworth (Anne Isabella Milbanke).
She was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child, but her parents parted just a few weeks after she was born. Her father left England when she was a few months old, and she never saw him again after that.
In contrast to most other girls who lived around the same time, Ada received a fully-fledged education as a child. Her teachers included social reformer William Frend and Mary Somerville, one of the first women to be admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society.
From a very young age, Ada showed an innate predisposition for mathematics, language and sciences. Yet, it was at 17 that she met the man who would become her mentor, as well as her friend, mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage.
Babbage is also knows as one of the fathers of computers. He was the inventor of the difference engine, a machine that could perform mathematical calculations. He also envisaged another machine called the analytical engine, which could be seen as the origin of modern computers.
At a later stage, Ada was asked to translate an article about Babbage’s analytical engine, by Luigi Federico Manabrea. While doing this, she noted down lengthy comments and intuitions.
In her notes, she proposed a way in which this analytical engine could repeat a series of instructions, a basic version of the ‘looping’ process through which computer programs operate today.
She also suggested that codes could help the device process letters and symbols as well as numbers.
These notes would be published in an English science journal in 1943, but Ada never signed the publication with her name, using her initials instead.
Lovelace married William King on 8 July 1835, and became Countess of Lovelace after her husband became Earl, three years after their wedding.
After trying but failing to develop a formula that would ensure wins when gambling, she died of uterine cancer on 27 November, 1852.
Although the value of her publication was only recognised in the 1950s, Lovelace is now considered one of the luminaries of computer science.
She recognised some of the main principles behind the functioning of computers years before they even came into existence.
Ada Lovelace Day is a chance to remember a brilliant woman and her intuitions, and celebrate those of the many other scientists populating the international scientific world today.