A DIFFICULT BEGINNINGAugusta Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815 in the United Kingdom.
Her parents were Lord George Gordon Byron and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. Her father was notorious for being a romantic poet, and left Ada with Lady Byron five weeks after Ada was born. He died 8 years later in Greece, and Ada never saw him again.Ada’s mother did not want her to be like her father because Lady Byron saw Lord Byron as unreliable and emotional. Thus, Lady Byron introduced Ada to mathematics at a young age to spark her intelligence and creativity, even though it was topic most Victorian women of the time never pursued. Ada was also immersed in music and learned to play the harp, violin, and piano. But although Lady Byron tried to block any undesirable traits Ada may have inherited from her father, she couldn’t keep away one thing. Ada was as passionate and strong-willed as the father she never knew.
A LOVE FOR NUMBERSIn her early teens, Ada began to realize how much she enjoyed working with numbers. Her mother realized this as well and provided her with tutors such as William Frend, a Cambridge mathematician who taught Ada complex topics in astronomy, geometry, and algebra. She was also tutored by Augustus De Morgan, who taught her advanced concepts in mathematics.Another important tutor to Ada was the 19th century’s most successful woman scientist, Mary Somerville. Ada and Mary were part of an elite group of women who called themselves the Bluestockings. They immersed themselves in controversial and intense mathematical and scientific topics, going to lectures, museums, and dinner parties hosted by other scientists. When Ada was 17, Mary Somerville herself hosted a dinner party, and invited scientists who had invented and were working on machines run by steam. It was here that Ada first met her life-long friend and accomplice, Charles Babbage.
BABBAGE’S LECTURECharles Babbage was the scientist who invented the Difference Engine, a mechanized “computer” which calculated simple equations by utilizing repeated addition. At the dinner party where Ada met Babbage, Ada was given the opportunity to examine Babbage’s Difference Engine, fully understanding how it worked. Impressed, Babbage also explained to Ada his plans to create a new machine he called the Analytical Engine.
This engine was also designed to compute mathematical equations, but it did so in a much more sophisticated way than the Difference Engine. Although Ada’s most important contribution to computer science was due to her introduction to the machine, the Analytical was never actually built.In 1840, Charles Babbage went to Turin, Italy and lectured on his plans for the Analytical Engine. Luigi Federico Menabrea, an Italian military engineer, was intrigued by Babbage’s idea, and wrote a detailed article explaining how the engine worked.
But since the article was written in French, others in the United Kingdom were unable to read about Babbage’s lecture. It became such a big interest of other scientists and mathematicians because this article was the first documentation of Babbage’s idea for the Analytical Engine, and the world was excited to finally know about it. So Ada, who was fluent in French from being taught at a young age, was tasked with translating the article.THE NOTESAda made her most significant contribution when she was 27 years old, as she was writing her infamous Notes. When Ada finally finished translating the article, she realized that though there was much in-depth information, there was still ideas and concepts which were explained or even brought up.
Thus, after translating, Ada wrote a series of annotations known as her “Notes” to fully elaborate on concepts brought up in the article, along with concepts Ada herself foresaw in the future of computer science. She wrote a total of seven notes labeled A-G, which ended up being three times longer than the article itself. She brought up topics today known as looping, conditional if-then, and computer memory in these Notes, which are known as the world’s first computer program. Because these concepts were not widely understood in that day and age, her notes were not used until more than a century later when computers were first coming about.
Ada’s first note, Note A, differentiated between Babbage’s Difference Engine and his Analytical Engine. When this note was inspected almost a century later, it was also noted that in a sense, it described a general purpose computer, which would not be invented for another 100 years after Ada’s death. In Note B, Ada introduced the idea today known as computer memory. She also elaborated on a system in which an engineer could describe how their machine worked and what it was doing along the way for other engineers to understand in the actual instructions for the machine to read, but would be ignored by the engine itself. This idea is used today, and is known as “commenting” in a computer program.In Note C, Ada spoke of an original idea she called “backing”, in which operating cards could be run through, then reset and run through again numerous times, which is today known as “looping” code in a program. Note D was a very in-depth explanation on how to write a set of instructions for an engine to perform, or in other words, how to program a device today.
Note E explained how the Analytical Engine could perform many different sets of instructions and brought up concepts similar to that of today’s function keys, or the top row of F keys on modern-day computer keyboards.In Note F, Ada talked about the Analytical Engine’s heightened ability to solve problems and remove the issue of the possibility of incorrect outputs. She also explained how this engine was more efficient both time-wise and money-wise. Finally, in Ada’s most mathematically complex note, Note G, Ada explained fully how a programmer’s input has to be correct and full if they are to expect a correct and full output from the device.
She even drew a diagram explaining how the engine could be able to produce a table of Bernoulli numbers, which would have been very useful to mathematics then and today.PERSONAL PROBLEMSAlthough Ada was very accomplished in the workplace, her most known failures and disappointments were due to her own life at home. She was a very sickly child, and was usually suffering from the measles and scarlet fever. Later in her life, she was unable to walk for many months because she came down with an unidentifiable sickness. But Ada was very active despite her sickliness, and loved to do gymnastics and horseback riding.When she grew older, Ada suffered from drug addiction and even lost most of her family’s fortune due to a faulty gambling system. She was known to be susceptible to a terrible temper, which could have stemmed from a mental problem.
In 1852, Ada was diagnosed with uterine cancer and died November 27 of that year. She was thirty-six years old, and she wouldn’t be a famous until more than a century later, on her one-hundred forty-sixth birthday.HONORED IN THE FUTUREEven though Ada’s contribution was extremely important to computer science, it was never used in the production of the computer or in the writing programs since it unknown by scientists and mathematicians at the time.
Thus, there are no known types of problems that could be solved using her notes. But Ada’s notes were used as a guide to create a new, universal high-level computer program which could perform concurrent processing. In honor of Ada Lovelace’s underappreciated Notes, the United States Department of Defense named their new program ADA. Although she would never know, Ada Lovelace is known worldwide for writing the world’s first computer program, and is thus dubbed the first computer programmer.