Explainer: Who was Ada Lovelace?

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Explainer: Who was Ada Lovelace?

We take a look at the life of one of the world's first computer programmers.

Today, the second Tuesday of October, marks Ada Lovelace Day, when we celebrate the achievements of the mathematician and computer pioneer, and the wider successes of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The commemoration day started in 2009 when it was founded by Suw Charman-Anderson, and features events held around the world to promote women in STEM. 

Augusta Ada Byron (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was born in London from the union of the famous British poet Lord Byron and his wife Lady Wentworth (Anne Isabella Milbanke).

She was Lord Byron's only legitimate child, but her parents parted just a few weeks after she was born. Her father left England forever when she was a few months old; she never saw him again.

In contrast to most other girls who lived around the same time, Ada received a fully-fledged education as a child. Her teachers included social reformer William Frend and Mary Somerville, one of the first women to be admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society.

From a very young age, Ada showed an innate predisposition for mathematics, language and sciences. Yet, it was at 17 that she met the man who would become her mentor, as well as her friend, mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage. Together, they worked on a device called The Analytical Engine. Her work made Lovelace the world’s first computer programmer. 

Lovelace was asked to translate an article about Babbage's analytical engine, by Luigi Federico Manabrea. While doing this, she noted down lengthy comments and intuitions.

In her notes, she proposed a way in which this analytical engine could repeat a series of instructions, a basic version of the 'looping' process through which computer programs operate today. She also suggested that codes could help the device process letters and symbols as well as numbers. These notes would be published in an English science journal in 1943, but Ada never signed the publication with her name, using her initials instead.

Lovelace married William King on 8 July 1835, and became Countess of Lovelace after her husband became Earl, three years after their wedding.

Her last work was on trying to develop a formula that would ensure wins when gambling. She later died of uterine cancer on 27 November 1852.

Although the value of her publication was only recognised in the 1950s, Lovelace is now considered one of the important achievers in computer science. She recognised many of the main principles behind computers years before they even came into existence. Her notes inspired Alan Turing to work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Ada Lovelace Day is a chance to remember a brilliant woman and her intuitions and celebrate those of the many other scientists populating the international scientific world today. 

Copyright © ITPro, Dennis Publishing
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