A Feminist a Day: Ada Lovelace

Who is she?

ada lovelaceAda Lovelace was a mathematician and the founder of computer programming.

Her mother schooled her in a course of mathematics and science from the age of four, and at the age of 12, she conceptualised a winged flying machine after studying the anatomy of birds.

At 17, she met Charles Babbage, the famous inventor and mathematician, and became his protege.

Ada was intrigued by Babbage’s plans for a device he called the Analytical Engine. It was never built, but the design had all the elements of a modern computer.

In 1842 Lovelace translated a short article describing the Analytical Engine by the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, for publication in England. Babbage asked her to expand the article, because she understood the machine. These notes by Ada contain what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine.

Ada also developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities.

Her notes became one of the key documents to inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Ada sadly died aged only 36 – but imagine what her potential would have been had she lived to an old age?

Why should we thank her?

Ada’s thoughts on computer programming were so far ahead of their time that she wasn’t even acknowledged until a century after her death. Without her, we may not have had the modern computers we use today. And what an amazing role model for young women who want to become computer programmers or mathematicians.

Fun fact

Lord Byron was her dad. But a pretty awful one – days after her birth, he told Ada’s mother he was going to carry on an affair with a stage actress and kicked her and Ada out of their home.

*It would have been Ada’s 200th birthday this week. Here’s a beautiful video to mark the occasion.

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A Feminist a Day: Ada Lovelace

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