Information Systems Department

Who is Ada?

 

Ada, the Countess of Lovelace, worked with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine. In her writings, she described how one could write instructions for Babbage's machine. Hence, she is generally considered the first computer programmer.

Ada, the Countess of Lovelace

Augusta Ada Byron's father was the famous poet Lord George Gordon Byron and her mother was Anne Isabelle Milbanke. Ada's parents separated a month after she was born, and on 25 April 1816 Lord Byron went abroad. Ada never saw her father again; Lord Byron never returned to England and died in Greece when Ada was eight years old. Lady Byron tried to do everything possible in bring up her child to ensure that she would not become a poet like her father.

A number of tutors were employed. At age about six she had a Miss Lamont as a tutor and, despite her mother's emphasis on mathematics, Ada's favourite subject was geography while arithmetic she only studied reluctantly in order to please her mother.

In 1833 Ada Byron was presented at court and, on the 5 June that year, she met Charles Babbage at a party. Two weeks later Ada and her mother visited Babbage 's London studio where the Difference Engine was on display. Ada was fascinated.

In 1834, when Ada was eighteen years old, she met Mary Somerville. Mrs. Somerville sent Ada mathematics books, advised her on study, set problems for her, and above all, talked to her young protégée about mathematics. Some of the conversation was about Babbage and his engines. Ada Byron enjoyed attending mathematics and scientific demonstrations with Mary Somerville , but she also enjoyed her company on other occasions.

Ada King became Countess of Lovelace when her husband William King, whom she married on 8 July 1835, was created an Earl in 1838. They had three children; Byron born 1836, Annabella born 1837 and Ralph Gordon born 1839.

As we mentioned above, in 1833 Ada Byron (as she still was at that time) had become interested in Babbage's analytic engine and, ten years later, she produced an annotated translation of Menabrea's Notions sur la machine analytique de Charles Babbage (1842). She added her own notes to the translation. The notes of the Countess of Lovelace extend to about three times the length of the original memoir. Their author has entered fully into almost all the very difficult and abstract questions connected with the subject. These two memoirs taken together furnish, to those who are capable of understanding the reasoning, a complete demonstration - That the whole of the developments and operations of analysis are now capable of being executed by machinery.

In the annotations, which were called "Notes", Ada Lovelace described how the Analytical Engine could be programmed and gave what many consider to be the first ever computer program. Lovelace's Notes were published in Richard Taylor's Scientific Memoirs Volume 3 in 1843 with the author's name given as AAL. This was the high point of her achievements and for a while she basked in the admiration that she received from her friends who knew who AAL was. Following the publication of the Notes her life deteriorated, almost certainly the lack of a scientific project, and particularly the fact that she lacked friends with whom she could discuss mathematical and scientific problems. Certainly she regarded the Notes as her first mathematical publication and wrote in many letters about the many mathematical works that she anticipated would follow.

By January 1852 Lovelace was wracked with pain, as the cancer which presumably had been a major cause of her health problems for some time, became more acute. Her mind however remained as sharp as ever. Her mind was invigorated by the society of the intellectual men whom she entertained as guests. ... She mastered the mathematical side of a question in all its minuteness ... her power of generalisation was indeed most remarkable, coupled as it was with that of minute and intricate analysis. Babbage was a constant intellectual companion and she ever found in him a match for her powerful understanding, their constant philosophical discussions begetting only an increased esteem and mutual liking.

In 1852, when only 37 years of age, Ada died of cancer.

* Adapted from an article by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson on The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive.

For more information about Ada, the Countess of Lovelace, you can view the following links:
ABK 
Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace  
Analyst, Metaphysician, and Founder of Scientific Computing
Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace       
Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers   
The Babbage Pages