How a 27-year-old poet became the world’s first computer programmer

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This video is part of a series on female genius, in a proud collaboration with 92Y’s 7 days of genius festival.


The story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, begins with a mathematically gifted mother and, as a father, the romantic poet Lord Byron. Known for his flirtations, Byron contributed a strong poetic streak to his daughter’s worldview. Lovelace’s interest in poetry, however, was something his mother wanted to stamp out, surrounding Lovelace with mathematics to the exclusion of the arts. But when Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the mechanical engineer behind the first computer, she found an outlet for her creativity, writing the first comprehensive computer algorithm and becoming the world’s first computer programmer, all at the age of twenty-seven.

Maria Popova: Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was born Ada Byron on December 10, 1815 and is known today simply as Ada Lovelace. She is celebrated as the world’s first computer programmer, the first person to marry the mathematical computing capacities of machines with the poetic potentialities of symbolic logic. This new combination was largely due to Ada’s unusual upbringing. She was the daughter of a reserved but mathematically gifted mother and the only legitimate child of the great romantic poet and notorious playboy Lord Byron. But Ada never really met her father; her parents separated when she was only five and Lord Byron died in Greece at the age of 36 and Ada was eight. Her mother decided to raise Ada on her own and went to great lengths to eradicate all traces of her father’s bad influence, which meant removing all poetry from the little girl’s life because she believed that poetry was the root of Lord Byron’s vice. Instead, she immersed little Ada in math and science from the age of four. And by the age of 12, Ada had become fascinated with mechanical engineering. And at the age of 12, she wrote a book called Flyology, in which she illustrated with her own diagrams her project to build a flying device. But even so, she felt the poetic part of her was being suppressed by her mother’s insistence on science and one day fame, and that’s how teenage girls rebelled in the 1800s, she told her mother that she was going to pursue poetic science.

Ada Lovelace befriended the brilliant but eccentric Charles Babbage, who at the time was working on bizarre inventions that would one day make him famous as the father of the computer. Their collaboration was an extraordinary union of software and hardware. Lovelace brought poetic science and Babbage mechanical engineering to the machine. In 1843, she translated a scientific article by an Italian military engineer, adding seven footnotes. Together they measured 65 pages or two and a half times the length of the original paper. In one of those footnotes, Lovelace wrote what is considered the first complete computer program, which made it the world’s first article on computing and made Lovelace the first computer programmer in the world. world. She was 27 years old.


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