Ada Lovelace | Mathematician and first computer programmer


Hailed as a mathematical genius, Ada Lovelace would have better understood the potential of the first computer plans than their inventor. A fortuitous friendship with mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer Charles Babbage brought her in touch with her early ideas for mechanical calculators and a preliminary prototype for a general-purpose computer.

His writings on this subject are widely regarded as seminal and include the first reported example of an algorithm written specifically for a computer. Although not without his detractors, these contributions have earned him the reputation of “the first computer programmer“.

Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, the only legitimate offspring of the brief marriage between the poet Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron) and his “princess of parallelograms”, the mathematician Annabella Milbanke (Anne Isabella Milbanke, later known as Lady Byron ). After the acrimonious disintegration of their marriage, Lady Byron returned to her parents, taking her five-week-old daughter with her. Soon after, Lord Byron left England for the Mediterranean and never saw his daughter again, dying abroad when she was 8 years old.

Lovelace was also a descendant of the extinct line of Barons Lovelace, which was revived a few years after her marriage in 1835 to William King-Noel, with whom she had three children. In 1838, King-Noel was appointed 1st Earl of Lovelace, Viscount of Ockham, making her Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, from where she became known as Ada Lovelace.

Not only was Lady Byron unusual in managing to retain custody of her daughter, but she also ensured that Lovelace had the best tutors, especially in math and science. Her efforts were in part motivated by a desire to keep her daughter away from any characteristics potentially inherited from her father, whose fiery temper she perceived as his folly.

Either way, Lovelace thrived on the academic focus of his education, demonstrating a special flair for math and science, as well as metaphysics and other subjects. What could be described as her early work includes a book she wrote at the age of 12 called Flyology, in which she recorded studies on the anatomical proportions of birds and the properties of different materials of artificial wings. during his own efforts to fly.

When Ada met Charles

Among his many influential tutors was mathematician and astronomer Mary Somerville, who introduced him to 42-year-old widower Charles Babbage at the age of 17. The next day, Lovelace and his mother, Lady Byron, visited Babbage to see a first prototype of his difference engine, a mechanical construction designed to calculate logarithms and trigonometric functions using what is known as the technique of “Finite differences”.

Back then, tables of this type of polynomial function could only be obtained laboriously by hand and were prone to errors which then propagated into the calculations where they were used. Babbage’s ideas for an error-proof machine to calculate these values ​​have attracted investment from the UK government totaling £ 17,000, which equates to well over £ 1million in cash today. ‘hui.

The Difference Engine also sparked intense interest from Lovelace and a lasting relationship of mutual esteem ensued. Babbage nicknamed Lovelace her “Enchantress of Numbers” and they exchanged ideas on the Difference Engine and other mathematical endeavors for the next twenty years.

Sadly, the difference engine never made it past the preliminary prototypes stage, suffering in part from the cost of the many high-specification components required, as well as shifting interests from Babbage, who moved on to an even more powerful calculating machine – the engine analytical machine.

Filled with arithmetic and logical unity, conditional branches and loops, and built-in memory, the analytical machine meets the criteria of a universal computing device as described by Alan Turing one hundred years later. It was also not made during Babbage’s time, but the logical structure of its design was shared by electronic computers subsequent to the birth of the digital age. In fact, he was so ahead of his time that few could really understand his abilities, and here Lovelace played a pivotal role.

Lovelace’s influence

As part of his efforts to spread awareness of the ideas behind his analytics engine, Babbage gave a seminar at the University of Turin, which was then written as an article in French by the young Italian engineer Luigi Menebrea. Lovelace then translated the article into English and developed the ideas down to his own manuscript, published in 1843, was triple the length of the original.

A key idea she espouses in her notes is the recognition that the machine has manipulated numbers as abstract quantities, so that the analytical engine “could act on things other than the number.”

In this way, Lovelace described the potential of the analytical engine beyond a simple calculator, a unique visionary perception of the device that seems to exceed even Babbage’s foresight for uses of his own invention. Among the many appendices to her article, she included an algorithm in Appendix G to find Bernoulli numbers, which is widely acclaimed as the very first computer algorithm.

Lovelace impressed many people with his talents over the course of his life, despite his tragically young death at just 36 from uterine cancer. Cambridge scholar and mathematician Augustus De Morgan, who taught him in the early 1840s, wrote to his mother saying: [male] newbie, about to go to Cambridge, showed the same power[s], I should have prophesied… that they would certainly have made him an original, perhaps first-rate, mathematical researcher.

Yet despite his apparent accomplishments, the recognition of his role as one of the founders of modern computing has been controversial. Many attributed this reluctance to give it credit as a symptom of gender bias. Accordingly, in the UK, the second Tuesday in October each year is celebrated as Ada Lovelace Day to commemorate not only her achievements, but those of many other female figures in science, technological engineering and mathematics who have gone unrecognized over the years. Subsequent IT developments also bear his name.


Last name and first name: Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace

Born: 10 December 1815, Piccadilly Terrace, Middlesex [now in London], England

Deceased: November 27, 1852, Marylebone, London

Mathematician famous for her work with mechanical engineer Charles Babbage and writing the first computer program


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