Ada Lovelace

Biography of Ada Lovelace, British mathematician of the early nineteenth century, author of the first algorithm to be processed by a machine, envisioned the ability of computers to go beyond simple numerical calculations.

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Ada Lovelace anticipated the development of computing

The contribution of this young British woman born in 1815 was so extraordinary, that the Ada programming language, created by the United States Department of Defense, was named after her. The language reference manual was approved on December 10, 1980.

The United States Defense Standard for the language MIL-STD-1815 was given the number of the year of her birth. Such was the degree of admiration and recognition of American computer scientists for the intelligence and clairvoyance of this young British woman. Much later, she had a worthy successor in American mathematics Margaret Hamilton.

Childhood of this woman of extraordinary intelligence

Ada Lovelace was born in London on December 10, 1815. During the 37 years she lived, until November 1852, she left an incredibly abundant and innovative legacy regarding the manufacture of calculating machines and the ways to program them to perform work repetitive.

Her parents were George Byron and Anne Milbanke. Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, known as Annabella, was an aristocrat with a passion for mathematics, a political activist and ardently involved in the anti-slavery fight.

Her father George Gordon was a well-known English poet. When he lost his father and grandfather as a child, he inherited from him the title of Baron Byron and the properties of the Barony.

George and Annabella were married on January 2, 1815; and by then he was already widely known for his poetic work and for his active love life.

Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815. Just a month later, Annabella was so fed up with her husband that she ran away with her daughter to a house their parents had in Seaham, Durham.

Girl Ada Lovelace
Engraving of the Ada girl, made by Frank Stone. Credit: Wikipedia

Within a month, rumors of George Byron’s infidelities and the debts he had accumulated were already spreading across the country. For all of which, Baron Byron immediately left the United Kingdom and never returned. As a wandering poet, he was very successful in Europe; since then he became famous and has been known as “Lord Byron“.

Education received by Ada Lovelace

Annabella wanted to give her daughter a careful education, much like the one she had received herself, but more demanding. Ada was not allowed to interact with other children without her mother’s prior approval. Due to this strict rule, Ada spent most of her childhood alone or only in the company of adults.

Her education began from the age of four, with preceptors and governesses. Later, from the age of eight, her study day began with a music class at 10:00 in the morning, followed by French reading, arithmetic class and homework. After lunch, she again received music class at 15:15, followed by French exercises at 16:00.

Lady Byron’s disciplinary system was very strict, with rewards and punishments. However, the key to her system was the intellectual stimulus, based on readings and relationships with interesting characters. Since she was an admirer of mathematics, she put a lot of effort into having her daughter Ada learn mathematics; and for this she chose Scottish mathematician and scientist Mary Somerville as tutor.

Mary Sommerville
Portrait of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips. Credit: Wikipedia

Among the personalities that Ada Byron could meet due to her social position and education, important scientists such as Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday and the novelist Charles Dickens stand out. But, without a doubt, the most beneficial influence came from Mary Somerville, who, in addition to being a tutor, was her friend.

As Ada grew older, her mother spent seasons away from home, in spas, or in the fields, and during that time the girl sent her lots of letters.

Ada Lovelace was in poor health throughout her short life; She suffered many of the childhood infections and frequently had a headache. At the age of seven she contracted a serious illness, which kept her bedridden for months. And at fourteen she was paralyzed from the legs due to measles, which made her spend long hours studying and reading.

When Ada Lovelace was 10 years old, her mother and a group of family and friends undertook a 15-month journey outside of England, from June 1826 to the fall of 1827.

Upon returning from the trip, they went to live in a palace in the Campo, in the town of Bifrons, very far from London and almost all kinds of companies.

With almost continuous solitude, Ada’s imagination took flight and she began to study mathematics and the anatomy of birds, with the obsessive idea of ​​trying to move through the air by flying. She was 11 years old and everything seemed possible to her.

At the beginning of 1829, she contracted an unknown disease again, which caused paralysis and kept her bedridden until the middle of 1832. That period marked her deeply; continued studying, but began to lose the tendency to reverie.

When she recovered from this serious illness, her mother moved with her to Fordhook Manor, a mansion located in Ealing, a village 12 km from central London, very popular with the London aristocracy.

Fordhood
Photograph from 1903. Credit: web ealingnevsextra.co.uk

Young Lovelace’s first romances

During this time Ada Lovelace, 17, lived her first romance; she fell in love with a young man who helped her with her studies two hours a day. They lived their love story in secret for some time, but Lady Byron found out and forbade the young man to enter her house and relate to her daughter.

In 1833, when she was eighteen, Ada began attending London high society parties, participated in dances, and dazzled many of the attendees, who described her as a charming being.

On one of those occasions she met Charles Babbage, who was 42 years old and was known to be a mathematician and engineer who was designing a mechanical calculator to automatically solve numerical functions.

Babbage
Portrait of Charles Babagge in 1860. Credit: Wikimedia

Ada Lovelace’s scientific background

In 1834 Lady Annabella Byron had asked Lord King, a young scientist and aristocrat from a very influential family, to teach her daughter Ada, whose passion for mathematics was already manifest.

In the summer of that year, Annabella and her daughter toured the north of England, and visited many factories where the famous “Jacquard loom” was already being used.

Mother and daughter were fascinated by the system devised in 1801 by the French Joseph Marie Jacquard, which allowed inexperienced users to elaborate complex designs on silk fabrics, using perforated cards that automated the process of subsequent weaving.

Some 11,000 similar looms had already been sold in France. Ada immediately linked this punch card system to what her recent friend Charles Babbage had mentioned to her about a possible mathematical calculator.

Jacquard
Portrait of Joseph Marie Jacquard. Credit: Wikipedia

During that time, mother and daughter were very related to Mary Somerville, the most famous mathematician in her country.

Ada’s marriage to the Earl of Lovelace

In the spring of 1835, Ada fell in love with her guardian, Mister William King. Upon the death of his father and grandfather, William, born in 1805, had recently inherited the title of Lord and several important properties. This small circumstance decided Lady Annabella to give her approval for this relationship.

Lord William King
Portrait of Lord William King. Credit: Wikipedia

On July 8, 1835 they were married, and Ada became Lady King. Their residence became a large property in Ockham Park (Ockham, Surrey), along with one in Torridon Fjord and one more in London.

They spent their honeymoon at Worthy Mansion, located in Asley Combe, Somerset, which had been built in 1799 as a hunting lodge and which King himself expanded shortly before his marriage to Ada.

The marriage had three children: Byron, the heir, born on May 12, 1836; Anne Isabella (called Annabella), born September 22, 1837; and Ralph Gordon, born July 2, 1839.

In 1837 William King inherited the title of Viscount of Ockham and also that of Earl of Lovelace. From then on, Ada always signed as Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace
Portrait of the young Ada Lovelace, made by Alfred Edward Chalon. Credit: Science & Society Pictures Library

In her first years of marriage Ada Lovelace was very happy, but she needed to regain the intellectual stimulation of mathematics. She and her mother sought a new mentor, and in the summer of 1840 the famous mathematician and logician Augustus de Morgan took over Ada’s progress.

Augustus de Morgan complained to Lady Byron that her daughter was not content to learn the lessons like any lady; According to him, women were not made to study the foundations of mathematics or other sciences. He considered Ada’s continual questions inappropriate for a lady. Lady Byron and Lord Lovelace did not communicate these complaints to Ada and ignored the professor’s warning; therefore, everything remained the same.

In 1841, Lord Lovelace was admitted as a “Fellow” in the Royal Society of London, which reveals that Ada’s husband had a high intellectual level, recognized in the London scientific society.

Ada Lovelace’s Relationships with Mary Somerville

During the time when Ada Lovelace was forced to combine her role as wife and mother, the exchange of letters with her former tutor and friend, Mary Somerville, represented a great relief for her. In this correspondence Lovelace made her friend share her frustration after motherhood and the difficulties to continue her studies.

In 1841, Lady Anabella revealed to Ada Lovelace that her father was the already famous poet Lord Byron.

Since 1833, Ada’s mathematical talent had led to a friendly relationship with the English mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage’s ideas helped her advance her speculations on a brilliant idea: to build a Jacquard loom applied to numbers; in other words: a computer. The friendship between the scientist and the young woman lasted her entire life; Despite what changed her life after getting married, he visited her and her husband frequently.

In the fall of 1840, Babbage found it increasingly difficult to build a fully operational prototype of the analytical (or differential) machine. He did not have enough resources to finance it, but he was optimistic because a renowned Italian scientist, the military engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea, had written a complimentary article in Italy about his project.

In 1841 Ada communicated to Babbage that she was interested in collaborating with him. Babbage was pleased with the idea and asked her to translate Luigi Menabrea’s article for him.

Ada did it with pleasure because that way she made known the valuable work of her friend and also delved into the rudimentary knowledge she already had about the machine, called the “analytical machine”.

In addition to literally translating, she added comments from her vintage, which she titled “Notes“. Babbage advised her, but Ada was entirely the author of that work.

The first computer program

These “Notes” contain what is considered the first computer program; that is, an algorithm coded for processing by a machine. Ada Lovelace’s “Notes” are important in the history of computing.

Ada Lovelace devoted much of her study to describing in highly technical language how the analytical machine would work.

She had the truly brilliant success of clearly distinguishing between “data” and “data processing”; This thought was revolutionary in her time.

With this work, Ada Lovelace created what she called “the science of operations“. She realized the practical applications of the analytical machine and came to glimpse the possibility of composing musical pieces with orders to a machine built for it.

She wrote verbatim: “The machine can be said to weave algebraic patterns, just as Jacquard’s loom weaves flowers and leaves“.

Ada Lovelace clearly stated the three functions that Babbage’s invention could fulfill: a) to process mathematical formulas expressed with symbols, b) to do numerical calculations (its main objective) and c) to give algebraic results in literal notation.

She understood that the technology used in the Jacquard loom and in the analytical machine could be applied to any process that involved treating data: in this way she opened the way to a new science, that of computing information.

The code devised by Ada Lovelace  was not tested, because Babbage never built his machine. But Ada was the first person to describe a general programming language. Ada Lovelace is the mother of computer programming.

In September 1843, the Ada Lovelace Notes were published in the journal “Scientific Memoirs” with the title “Sketch of the analytical engine invented by Charles Babbage“. She signed with her initials A. A. L. But when it was learned that the initials corresponded to a woman’s name, the “scientists” of that time did not take it seriously.

In her notes, Ada says that the “analytical machine” could only give available information that was already known: she clearly saw that the machine could not originate knowledge. Her work was forgotten for many years.

Approximately one hundred years after her death in 1953, Ada Lovelace’s “Notes” on Babbage’s analytical machine were published under her real name. Currently, this machine is recognized as a primitive model of a computer and Ada’s “Notes” as a description of its software.

Last years of life of an extraordinary woman

In the summer of 1852, Ada’s health worsened greatly; She had been suffering from nervous exhaustion and general weakness for years, but that year the first symptoms of uterine cancer appeared. The illness lasted for several months; Ada’s mother, Lady Annabella, took control of her care.

Ada Lovelace died at the age of thirty-six, on November 27, 1852, accompanied by Lady Annabella Byron and William Lovelace.

At her request, she was buried with her father, Lord Byron, in the village parish of Hucknall Torkard, in Nottinghamshire, near Newstead Abbey.

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