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Ada Lovelace Writes a Computer Program – 1843 A.D.

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Ada Lovelace Writes a Computer Program

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

“What do you get when you combine a scientifically minded, logical mother with a free-spirited, poetically gifted father? You get Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, better known as Ada Lovelace—a British woman of the Industrial Age who used her unusual background and lineage to contribute to the cutting-edge technology of her day: the steam-powered Babbage difference engine.

Her mother was Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron (1792–1860), and her father was the famous poet and notorious philanderer, Lord Byron (1788–1824). Lady Anne kicked Lord Byron out of the house when Ada was just five weeks old; Ada never met him. Determined to keep any trace of Lord Byron out of Ada’s life, she committed her daughter to a rigorous education in mathematics and science. Private tutors filled Ada’s days, including the Scottish science writer Mary Somerville, who introduced Ada to Charles Babbage at a dinner party.

At the party, Babbage unveiled a small prototype of his difference engine. Ada was captivated and wanted to know details of how it worked. That conversation was the first of many, which eventually led Babbage to show Ada the blueprints for his follow-up invention, the analytical engine. With her curious, creative mind and mature understanding of mathematics, she was commissioned to translate from French (at the time, a primary language of science) the lecture notes of Italian statesman Luigi Menabrea (1809–1896), who attended a talk Babbage gave on the analytical engine, and to add notes and ideas of her own. This she published in Scientific Memoirs, an early science journal, in 1843.

In that article appears Ada’s algorithm and detailed instructions for making Babbage’s machine compute Bernoulli numbers. This is generally regarded as one of the first published computer programs.

In recognition of her talents and influence on computer science, in 1979 the US Department of Defense named the Ada computer language after her.”

SEE ALSO The Jacquard Loom (1801)

Watercolor portrait of Ada Lovelace, by Alfred Edward Chalon, c. 1840. Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on the analytical engine, for which she designed the world’s first computer program.

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