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Ada Lovelace, 1815-1852


Ada Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. Her mother effected an unusual legal separation when Ada was a few months old, sending her father away to Continental Europe. He died early, at age 36, the same age as Ada would be at her death.

Ada's mother encouraged her education in science and mathematics in part to counter the worrisome tendencies evident in her dissolute father. Her unusual facility in mathematics was evident at least three years before her marriage to Baron William King in 1835. (King was made Earl of Lovelace three years later, and so she became Ada Lovelace.) Ada studied mathematics under the notable figures Mary Somerville and Augustus de Morgan, who also mentored George Boole in these years. She met Charles Babbage in 1833 and began an intellectual partnership to comprehend and publicize Babbage's Analytical Engine, a conceptual forerunner to modern computers.

Ada Lovelace's enduring fame comes from her translating an Italian author's description of Babbage's Analytical Engine from French into English (1843). Her extensive "notes" on its mathematical foundations, conceptual organization, and potential for being programmed roughly tripled the original essay's 8,000 words. Earlier critics such as Allan Bromley, Bruce Collier, and Dorothy Stein who claimed this work was done by Babbage do not appear well-founded. Lovelace, in addition to creating a step-by-step means to compute a complicated and non-obvious result (the sequence of Bernoulli numbers), also wrote expressively of computing devices for processing words, music, and information, while Babbage himself was mostly focused on computing numbers. A strong case can be made that Lovelace should be recognized as having written the first algorithm intended to be run on a computer; but since Babbage's computer was not built, it may be incautious to use the term "first computer programmer." However, the programming language Ada was named in her honor.

As a notable woman in computing, Ada Lovelace has many admirers, including the Ada Initiative advocacy organization and several popular biographers. She influences popular culture through such works as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's steampunk novel The Difference Engine (1990) and Sydney Padua's graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (2015).