Ada Lovelace, born December 10th 1815 in England, was a mathematician who is considered to have written instructions for the first computer program.
Her mother, who had a passion for mathematics, raised Lovelace with an excellent education in all subjects, particularly maths. At that time, it was extremely rare for mother to provide such extensive education, particularly a scientific one, to a daughter, as women weren’t allowed to go to university or join learned societies.
Lovelace excelled at mathematics and was encouraged by her tutor Mary Somerville, who was another notable female mathematician. At age 17, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, known as ‘the father of computers’, and they quickly became lifelong friends. Babbage described her as
“that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it”.
The Analytical Engine
The Analytical Engine was a machine that would be able to store data and perform sequences of instructions defined on punch cards and fed into the machine. Although it was never built, the Analytical engine was a direct forerunner of the computers we use today.
Lovelace became deeply intrigued with this machine and when, in 1842, she was asked to translate an article describing the Analytical Engine by the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, Babbage asked her to expand the article “as she understood the machine so well”. The translated article became three times longer and Lovelace added a description of a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions – a process known as looping, which is used in computer programs today. Due to this, she is often referred to as the ‘first computer programmer’.
Ada Lovelace sadly died of cancer aged 36, a few years after her groundbreaking publication of “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator”. Although her contributions to computer science were not discovered until the 1950s, long after their publication, her passion and vision for technology has made her a powerful symbol for women in science.
Hope you enjoyed reading about a very important woman in our mathematical history! Would you be interested in more posts about the field of computer science? M x