Mathematician Focus: Ada Lovelace

Who was she and what was she famous for?

Augusta Ada King, better known as the Countess of Lovelace was born in London, in December 1815. She was the only legitimate child of the famously erratic Victorian poet Lord Byron and his mathematics-loving wife Anne Isabella Milbanke (known as Annabella).

Annabella feared that Ada may inherit her father’s poetic outlook and therefore decided to raise her under an extremely strict regime of science, logic and mathematics. It is reported that Ada had a fascination with machines from a very early age, even going as far as to design her own fancy steamboats.

She would also spend hours looking at and analysing the new inventions that were coming from the Industrial Revolution.

At age 19 she married a man named William King who became the Earl of Lovelace. They had 3 children together.

Describing her approach as “political science”, her educational and social exploits brought her into contact with many famous mathematicians of the time, including the polymath and scientist Mary Sommerville who in 1833 introduced her to Charles Babbage.

Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge when Ada met him and the two instantly hit it off becoming close and lifelong friends. Lovelace was extremely intrigued by Babbage’s work on calculating machines and especially a device called the Analytical Engine.

Ada Lovelace, unfortunately, passed away of uterine cancer in 1852, at the young age of 36.

 

Analytical Engine

The Analytical Engine was a mechanical general-purpose computer proposed and designed by Charles Babbage. The device was never built, but the design had all the key elements of the modern-day computer.

In 1842, Ada was asked to translate a small article that described the Analytical Engine by the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Instead, she decided to expand upon the article and her final copy was three times the length of the original and contained what was considered ‘computer programs’ as well as incredibly prescient observations on the potential of the machine and what it could be used for.

Ada Lovelace’s programs were considered the most elaborate and complete and were the first to be published. For this reason, she is often referred to as the very first computer programmer.

 

Did you also know?

  • She only saw her father a handful of times – he died in 1824 when she was only 8 years old
  • At age 12, she conceptualized a flying machine.
  • She is considered by many to be the first ever computer programmer.
  • She was known to be a compulsive gambler.
  • Charles Dickens read to Ada Lovelace on her deathbed.

 

Some quotes from Lovelace

“Mathematical science shows what is. It is the language of unseen relations between things. But to use and apply that language, we must be able fully to appreciate, to feel, to seize the unseen, the unconscious”.

“The science of operations, as derived from mathematics more especially, is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value”.

“We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”.

“I am more than ever now the bride of science”.

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