Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 as Augusta Ada Byron the only legitimate child of the famed poet Lord George Byron and his wife Lady Anne Wentworth. Her parent’s marriage was not a happy one. Shortly after Ada was born, her father and mother separated when Lord Byron informed his wife of his intention to continue an affair with a stage actress. Shortly thereafter, he informed his wife to “find a convenient day to leave their home. The child will of course accompany you,” he added. Her father subsequently left England, never to return.
Because her mother feared that Ada would grow up to be like her romantic, unpredictable, and moody father, she was immersed in logic, mathematics, and science while growing up. Early on, Ada demonstrated an aptitude for both languages and mathematics.
In her late teens, Ada met mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage, who would serve as a mentor to the young Ada. Babbage, now known as the father of the computer, invented the difference engine, which performed mathematical calculations. Ada had the opportunity to observe the machine before it was finished and was quite enthralled by what she saw.
At age 20, Ada married William King, who subsequently became the Earl of Lovelace. At that point, she became known as Lady Lovelace. The couple would have three children together.
In 1842, Ada was asked to translate an article, which had been written by Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea on Babbage’s analytical engine. However, Ada went far beyond just translating the original article. She added her own thoughts and ideas about the machine. When done, her annotated article had grown to be three times longer than the original one. Her work was published in an English science journal in 1843 under only her initials “A.A.L.”
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In her notes, Ada described how codes could be created for the device to go far beyond handling just numbers. Ada contemplated that any piece of content, such as music, sound, pictures, and text, could be translated to digital form and manipulated by a machine. She also described how a machine could be programmed to calculate Bernoulli numbers using a looping process. This has been considered by many to be the first computer program. To her disappointment, Ada’s article attracted little attention during her lifetime.
While she had a keen mind for mathematics and logic, that didn’t prevent her from developing what today would be called a gambling addiction. To help her win, she constructed mathematical algorithms. When these failed to work, she ended up losing a considerable portion of her wealth.
A bout of cholera in 1837 left her with lingering health issues. Doctors gave her painkillers and opium, causing her to experience mood swings and hallucinations. She died in 1852, most likely from uterine cancer. For unknown reasons, she had previously made it known that she wanted to be buried next to the father she had never known, Lord Byron.
It would take nearly 100 years for her contributions to the field of computer science to become widely appreciated. B.V. Bowden republished her 1842 notes in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines in 1953. Since then, Ada has received many accolades for her work. One of these was in 1980 when the Department of Defense named a newly developed computer language “Ada”. She is widely acclaimed to be the first computer programmer.