Augusta Ada King, more commonly known as Ada Lovelace was the Countess of Lovelace born on December 10th, 1815. After fearing that she would inherit her father’s poetic interests and personality, and in an era where it was traditional for only men to study the topics, Ada’s mother raised her to love science, logic and mathematics.
Lovelace was privately home schooled and tutored by William Frend, Mary Somerville and mathematician Augustus De Morgan who was the first professor of mathematics at the University of London. After studying the anatomy of birds, at just 12 years old, Ada illustrated plans to construct a winged apparatus using various suitable materials. She conceptualized a flying machine or in her words “to make a thing in the form of a horse with a steam engine in the inside”. At the age of 17, she met Charles Babbage who soon became her mentor in mathematics and science.
Later in 1835, she married William King who was created an earl in 1838 and that’s when Ada King turned into Ada Lovelace. They shared a love for horses and had three children together. William always supported Ada with her findings and academia and the two used to socialise with many famous minds including scientist Michael Faraday and writer Charles Dickens.
Even though the computer she wrote about was never created, her detailed notes led to her being known as the first computer programmer. In 1843 Ada Lovelace was deeply intrigued by Babbage’s plans to invent a device and she later translated the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s article on Babbage’s newest idea- the Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine was never created but had all the essential elements that would create a modern computer.
Baggage asked Ada to expand the article as she understood the machine so well, and the final piece was over three times the length of the original and contained several computer programmes. Her notes were much more detailed than the article itself and included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the engine. Although Babbage sketched out the original article, Lovelace’s final piece was more detailed, elaborate and complete and the first to be published. Her notes described how codes on the device could be created to handle letters, symbols and numbers. She also suggested that any piece of content whether it be music, text pictures and sounds, could be translated into digital form. Lovelace was also the first to create a theorized method for a process known as looping which computer programs use today. The engine was never completed so her program was never tested but it was seen to be the first published algorithm ever made for implementation on a computer. She was an English mathematician and writer and imagined the modern-day computer more than 100 years before it was invented.
Although Ada died on the 27th November 1852, her contributions to computer science were not discovered until the 1950’s by B.V Bowden who republished her notes in Faster than though: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines and has since been widely recognised in science, literature and film. A computer language named ‘Ada’ was developed in 1980 by the U.S Department of Defence after herself.
Since 2009, her life has been celebrated through an annual event on the 2nd Tuesday of October to raise the profile of women in STEM, celebrate the achievements of women in STEM around the world, and to remind ourselves of Ada Lovelace’s legacy as a role model for women in tech. The day was founded by Suw Charman– Anderson who is a technologist herself, her objective was to celebrate Lovelace’s achievements and create a lasting memory of Ada Lovelace’s impact on technology as we know it today.
To read about the history of women in tech in more detail, click here.