Augusta Ada King-Noel, better known as Ada Lovelace, was the Countess of Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer, famous for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognise the full potential of a “computing machine”, which, as she discovered, had applications beyond pure calculation. Ada also published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is sometimes regarded as the very first computer programmer in history. In 1835 she married William King, who was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838, which, in turn, made Ada the Countess of Lovelace.
Born in December of 1815, Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron, and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. The poet left his wife a month after Ada was born, and died of disease in the Greek War of Independence, when his daughter was eight years old. Ada was often ill in her childhood, and her mother, left bitter after Byron’s separation from them, encouraged Ada’s interest in mathematics and logic in an attempt to prevent her from developing her father’s perceived insanity.
Privately schooled in mathematics and science by William Frend, William King, Augustus De Morgan, and Mary Somerville, the noted researcher and scientific author of the 19th century, Ada began to demonstrate mathematical abilities in 1832, when she was seventeen, and her interest in mathematics dominated most of her adult life. “An original mathematical investigator,” which De Morgan predicted she would become, Lovelace often questioned basic assumptions by integrating poetry and science. Strongly interested in scientific developments and fads of the day, including phrenology and mesmerism, Ada was also enthusiastic about studying the brain, which probably came from a long-running preoccupation, inherited from her mother, about her ‘potential’ madness.
Between 1842 and 1843, Lovelace translated the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s article on Babbage’s Analytical Engine. With the article, she attached a set of notes explaining the Analytical Engine function. It was a difficult task, as even many other scientists didn’t really understand the concept. Ada’s notes even had to explain how the Analytical Engine differed from the original Difference Engine. The attachment was three times bigger than the article itself and included, in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which could have run correctly, had Babbage’s Analytical Engine been built. Her work was very well received at the time.
Lovelace died of uterine cancer on November 27, 1852, aged 36, the same age as her father had died. Often cited as the first computer programmer, thanks to her notes that were labelled alphabetically from A to G, she described, in section G, an algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers, which is considered the first published algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer. As the engine was never completed, her program was never tested. More than a century after her death, in 1953, Ada Lovelace’s notes were republished, and the engine has now been recognised as an early model for a computer and her notes as a description of a computer and software.
An important figure in math, engineering and and computer science, Ada was a woman who dared to dream about numbers and science at the time when women were supposed to stay at home and take care of their families. Lovelace’s name is an encouragement for all women who want to build a career in their respectful fields of knowledge. Her work, determination and contribution to the world made Ada Lovelace a woman to be inspired by.