Lord Byron remains a famed leader of the Romantic movement, with his brilliant rhapsodic poetry, prose, and flamingly vivid personality and excesses; what is far less well-known is that his daughter was one of the great geniuses of all time and is considered the world’s first computer programmer. Augusta Ada Byron was born in 1815; her father abandoned the family when she was one month old, and she never knew him. She was educated by private tutors, and her mother pushed her to focus on logic, math, and science, both because these were interests of her mother’s and because her mother thought it might prevent Ada from manifesting the insanity she thought ran in Lord Byron’s family. Ada was also forced to lie still for extended periods of time because her mother believed it would help her develop self-control.
In 1833, at age 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, a mathematician, mechanical engineer, philosopher, and inventor, who is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer; it was the beginning of a long friendship and working relationship. When she saw his prototype of the “difference engine,” as he called it, she was captivated, and made a study of its blueprints as well as industrial steam machines to understand its function. Two years later, she married the Earl of Lovelace and was then known as Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace. In 1841, she resumed her studies of mathematics and was given high-level research tasks by Professor Augustus de Morgan of the University of London. She also advanced her studies with the long-distance guidance of Mary Somerville.
In 1842-43, she translated an article in French by Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea on Babbage’s new “analytical engine”; Babbage read her translation and asked her why she had not written such an article herself, since he considered her well able to do so, and urged her to articulate her own ideas on the subject. She responded by adding an extensive “Notes” section to the translated article, which were three times as long as the original article. These “Notes” included the first-ever algorithm – a mathematical computer program; also, within this text she broke new ground with her insight that an “analytical engine” could go beyond mere mathematical calculation and serve other purposes. They were published in an English science journal; Ada’s authorship was identified only by her initials, “AAL” – in all likelihood this was because women were not seen as credible scientists at the time. Unfortunately, after this brilliant conceptual work, she became increasingly unwell and died of cancer at age 36 in 1852. Ada’s contributions to computer science were not acknowledged until the 1950s; since then, she has received many posthumous honors for her work. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named a newly developed computer language “Ada” after her. Ada died of uterine cancer in London in 1852.
“The intellectual, the moral, the religious seem to me all naturally bound up and interlinked together in one great and harmonious whole.”
— Ada Lovelace
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