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Ada Lovelace

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was a mathematician and writer popularly known for her contribution to Charles Babbage’s Analytical Machine, a proposed mechanical computer. She is regarded as the first computer programmer because she was the first to recognize that Babbage’s machine had applications beyond pure calculation and published the first algorithm to be executed by this machine.

Early Life

Ada Lovelace was born on 10 December 1815 and was the only child of the poet Lord Byron and mathematician Lady Byron. Expecting a male child, Lord Byron was disappointed when Ada was born and named her after his half-sister Augusta Leigh. Five weeks after Ada was born, her parents separated, and Lord Byon did not attempt to have custody of Ada even though the English Law gave him full custody. He left England permanently and would later commemorate their parting in a poem that begins, “Is thy face like thy mother’s my fair child! ADA! Sole daughter of my house and heart?” He died in Greece when Ada was eight years old.

Ada did not have a close relationship with her mother and was often left in the care of her maternal grandmother Judith, Hon. Lady Milbanke. Her mother remained bitter over separation from her father and perceived him insane. She promoted Ada’s interest in mathematics and logic to prevent her from developing this insanity. From Childhood, Ada was prone to falling ill. When she was eight years old, she experienced headaches that obscured her vision, and in 1829, when she was fourteen years old, she became paralyzed after contracting measles and was only able to walk with crutches two years later.

Scientific Contributions

Ada Lovelace spent most of her adult life pursuing her interest in mathematics. She met the British Mathematician, Charles Babbage, popularly known as the father of computers when she was 18 years old through her private tutor Mary Somerville. She was also in contact with scientists such as Michael Faraday, Sir David Brewster, Andrew Crosse, and the author Charles Dickens.

Ada Lovelace wrote what many consider to be the first computer program which she simply called “notes” between 1842 and 1843, after translating an article written by the Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea about the analytical machine. The notes are about three times longer than the article and include, in detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers using the analytical machine. However, many historians have rejected the notion that she wrote the first set of computer programs, arguing that Charles Babbage’s notes from 1836/1837 contained the first programs for the engine.

Her notes also contained her much-debated dismissal of artificial intelligence where she wrote,” The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis, but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths.” While many scientists, including Babbage himself, focused on the number-crunching capabilities of the Analytical Machine, Ada was the first to see beyond that.

Personal Life

Ada married William, 8th Baron King, in 1835, and they had three children; Bryon, Anne Isabella, and Ralph Gordon. Ada’s husband was made the Earl of Lovelace in 1838, so she became the Countess of Lovelace. She also loved to gamble and reportedly lost more than E3000 on the horses in the late 1840s.

Ada Lovelace died on November 27, 1852, from uterine cancer – she was 36 years old. At her request, she was buried next to her father at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall Nottinghamshire.

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