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Ada Lovelace

1815 - 1851

Ada Lovelace

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, née Byron (father: Lord Byron the poet), is credited with being the first person to develop an algorithm for machine calculation, making her the first software writer.

  • Nationality
  • English

  • Subject
  • Computing

  • Fields
  • Software pioneer, mathematics, mechanical computation

  • Publications
  • Notes, 1842 - 1843, additional notes to expand on a translation from French of Luigi Menabrea's dry notes on Babbage's first machine. These 'Notes' introduced the concept of computer programming.

  • Theories
  • Computing could be done through a combination of mechanics (hardware) and algorithms (software), allowing computers to go far beyond mere number-crunching.

    Lovelace had a theory about how technology could influence and co-evolve with society.

  • Equations
  • Lovelace wrote the first algorithm for machine calculation.

Charles Babbage's difference engine worked by many columns of numbered cogs

Ada Lovelace is associated with two towering figures of 19th century English history: George, Lord Byron, and Charles Babbage.

Byron was her father, yet she never knew him in person. He abandoned his wife and daughter when Ada was just a few months old, and never returned (he died abroad when she was 8 years old). This infamous character, who scandalised English society, left a legacy on Ada which initially drove her, under her bitter mother's tutelage, to refuge in a harshly controlled logical world of science and mathematics.

As a brilliant and beautiful young woman she met Charles Babbage, who demonstrated his 'Difference Engine' (for want of a better name, to be sure) to her. From then on she was hooked, and collaborated with him. Till her death, she laboured to find an application for Babbage's hardware, leading her to discovering the potential of card-fed instructions which amounted to an algorithm, for wholesale calculations. The machine was also to introduce a mechanical form of logic gate, allowing it to conduct conditional calculations, a basic capability of all modern computers.

Tragically, her anachronistic vision, prejudice against her being a woman, and their failure to gain ongoing funding, led to an enhanced machine, the 'Analytical Engine', failing to become a reality. She died at the age of 36 from cancer, and was buried, at her request, alongside her poet father, whose absence had been her lifelong companion.

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