Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, was one of the most picturesque characters in
computer history. Augusta Ada Byron was born December 10, 1815 the daughter
of the illustrious poet, Lord Byron. Five weeks after Ada was born Lady
Byron asked for a separation from Lord Byron, and was awarded sole custody
of Ada who she brought up to be a mathematician and scientist. Lady Byron
was terrified that Ada might end up being a poet like her father. Despite
Lady Byron's programming Ada did not sublimate her poetical inclinations.
She hoped to be "an analyst and a metaphysician". In her 30's
she wrote her mother, if you can't give me poetry, can't you give me "poetical
science?" Her understanding of mathematics was laced with imagination,
and described in metaphors.
At the age of 17 Ada was introduced to Mary Somerville,
a remarkable woman who translated LaPlace's works into English, and whose
texts were used at Cambridge. Though Mrs. Somerville encouraged Ada in
her mathematical studies, she also attempted to put mathematics and technology
into an appropriate human context. It was at a dinner party at Mrs. Somerville's
that Ada heard in November, 1834, Babbage's ideas for a new calculating
engine, the Analytical Engine. He conjectured: what if a calculating engine
could not only foresee but could act on that foresight. Ada was touched
by the "universality of his ideas". Hardly anyone else was.
worked on plans for this new engine and reported on the developments
at a seminar in Turin, Italy in the autumn of 1841. An Italian,
Menabrea, wrote a summary of what Babbage described and published
an article in French about the development. Ada, in 1843, married
to the Earl of Lovelace and the mother of three children under
the age of eight, translated Menabrea's article. When she showed
Babbage her translation he suggested that she add her own notes,
which turned out to be three times the length of the original
article. Letters between Babbage and Ada flew back and forth filled
with fact and fantasy. In her article, published in 1843, Lady
Lovelace's prescient comments included her predictions that such
a machine might be used to compose complex music, to produce graphics,
and would be used for both practical and scientific use. She was
When inspired Ada could
be very focused and a mathematical taskmaster. Ada suggested to Babbage
writing a plan for how the engine might calculate Bernoulli numbers.
This plan, is now regarded as the first "computer program."
A software language developed by the U.S. Department of Defense was named
"Ada" in her honor in 1979.
she wrote the description of Babbage's Analytical Engine her life
was plagued with illnesses, and her social life, in addition to
Charles Babbage, included Sir David Brewster (the originator of
the kaleidoscope), Charles Wheatstone, Charles Dickens and Michael
Faraday. Her interests ranged from music to horses to calculating
machines. She has been used as a character in Gibson and Sterling's
the Difference Engine, shown writing letters to Babbage in the
series " The Machine that Changed the World" and I have
gathered her letters and writings in "Ada,
The Enchantress of Numbers: A Selection from the Letters of Lord
Byron's Daughter and Her Description of the First Computer Though
her life was short (like her father, she died at 36), Ada anticipated
by more than a century most of what we think is brand-new computing.
Ada Lovelace - Project: http://www.ada-lovelace.com/
A Selection and Adaptation From Ada's Notes: http://www.scottlan.edu/lriddle/women/ada-love.htm