The woman largely responsible for modern computers and programming

(Photo by Donaldson Collections/Getty Images)

Where we are today with computers and technology is due to countless incremental steps, eventually leading to enormous leaps. Many of those responsible for the advancements have been left out of the vaults of history. Fortunately, Ada Lovelace wasn’t one of those people.

I first heard of Ada Lovelace while reading ‘The Innovators‘ by Walter Isaacson. I remember being intrigued by what was considered a very unorthodox life at the time, especially for a woman, and the irony that preceded her spot being solidified in history.

Ada’s father was the famous poet, Lord Byron. Lord Byron lived an untamed boisterous life. He was also a luddite, which was an anti-technology movement at the time. Ada’s mother, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron, was a bright woman, in fact, Lord Byron was attracted to her by her intelligence. The marriage between Lord Byron and Ada’s mother was short and disastrous. Anne and Lord Byron separated soon after Ada was born on December 10, 1815. Ada never saw haw her father again.

Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron had such a dislike for Ada’s father, she wanted Ada to be nothing like him. In an attempt to steer Ada way from the arts and anything that could lead her to have the personality of her father, she immersed Ada in science and mathematics. From an early age, Ada was shown to have a talented for mathematics and science. Ada was tutored by a few high profile individuals, who included, Augustus De Morgan, the first professor of mathematics at the University of London, and Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician, the first woman who was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

An early mentor and friend of Ada was Charles Babbage. Babbage is credited with inventing the difference engine, which solved mathematical calculations. He was also helped to create what was called the analytical machine that could solve more complex calculations than the difference machine, it is considered to be the first computer. Ada saw the analytical machine when it was in the process of being built and was extremely intrigued.

In 1843, Ada was asked to translate an article written on the analytical machine by the Italian engineer, Luigi Federico Menabrea. Ada translated the article from French to English, and added her own annotations. The notes were three times longer than the article. At this point in history, machines were envisioned and built to complete single specialized tasks — Ada was the first to envision a machine that could execute a nearly infinite amount of tasks, similarly to modern computers. In her notes she explained in detail how the analytical machine could be programmed to use numbers and symbols to write any program an engineer could imagine. Ada also was the first to describe what programmers today call “looping”, which is when a machine repeats one or multiple lines of instructions. Ada’s notes were published separately in an English journal. She published under the initials, “A.A.L.”, which stood for Augusta Ada Lovelace, most likely to hide her identity as a woman.

Many consider Ada Lovelace to be the first computer programmer. She used her passions of the arts and sciences to envision something well beyond complementary thinking. Ada’s contribution wasn’t realized until the 1950’s. B.V. Bowden republished her work for the world to see in 1953 in ‘Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines’.

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