Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace has often been credited as the world’s first computer programmer and was a famous mathematician.

Early Life

Augusta Ada Byron was born December 10, 1815, to the famous English poet George Gordon Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke. The Byrons were a complicated family. Lord Byron had left Anne for another woman before Ada’s birth; he also deeply loved Augusta Leigh, his half-sister with whom he had an incestuous relationship.

Ada’s parents separated soon after her birth, and Lord Byron left England that same year for Italy.

Anne raised Ada with an education in mathematics and logic. Lord Byron had been a mathematics professor before his poetic career took off, and he encouraged the same in Ada from an early age.

In 1828, at 17, she met Mary Somerville, a Scottish science writer who aided her in developing her education in mathematics to include logic and philosophy.

She also read widely about astronomy and science fiction, and was particularly fond of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

She married William King in 1835 and was gifted with a sizable estate by her father the following year. They had 3 children together.

Ada was introduced to Charles Babbage in 1833 when she was seventeen. She had written to him asking for mathematical tables of the sort he had created (before his more famous difference engine).

The two corresponded for some time before the meeting; during that period Ada wrote an essay on number theory that drew praise from Charles Babbage himself.

Ada and Babbage would never be close, but they were certainly complementary: he was a mathematician and inventor and she had a deep understanding of the philosophy underlying mathematics.

During their first meeting Babbage presented her with a copy of “Lectures on Mathematics,” and she was struck by the author’s reference to “poetical science.” It was not something you would expect from a mathematician; it was indicative of someone who could see beyond mathematics into the importance of its role in understanding other sciences.

According to Charles Babbage’s memoirs, they bonded over an “animated conversation” regarding astronomy and planets. Babbage was not a believer in the ethereal; he believed that the universe could be understood by mathematics and reason.

Babbage would later credit Ada for being critical to his work on his famous difference engine. What is known, however, is that she translated an article from French into English for him – and that it contained mathematical errors.

Ada took the time to correct the article, demonstrating her knowledge of maths.

Later Life

Her mentor Mary Somerville was impressed by Ada’s work and passed it on to Charles Babbage.

At the time Ada was staying with Mary Somerville and had been for several months. She was sick – most likely with cancer, though some have suggested a gallstone or liver disease – and it is believed that her mother did not want her daughter to return home while she was still alive.

Mary invited Babbage to dinner and introduced him to Ada, who was by now gravely ill and coughing frequently.

After four nights of lectures, Ada wrote her famous notes on the engine; it is unclear if Babbage or she produced them.

What is clear is that they contain extensive annotations and elaborations – not only details of the machine but also refer to its potential applications, something quite outside the remit of Babbage’s original machine.

Her notes on a machine that was never built would mark the end of her life: Ada died from cancer or a related illness on November 27, 1852, at age 36.

She was buried next to her father in Nottinghamshire.

Ada Lovelace Quotes

I am quite thunder-struck at the power of the writing. It is especially unlike a woman’s style surely; but neither can I compare it with any man’s exactly.

I do not believe that my father was (or ever could have been) such a Poet as I shall be an Analyst; (& Metaphysician); for with me the two go together indissolubly

Religion to me is science, and science is religion.

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me.