Ada Lovelace: The Forgotten Mother of The Computer

Yilmaz Kadir

Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815, as Augusta Ada Byron.

In the autumn of 1843, a hundred years before the first modern computers, the Countess of Lovelace, Augusta Ada King had published the first mechanical instructions for the computing machine in Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs. This machine was developed by the mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage, also known as the father of the computer, was Ada Lovelace's mentor. Ada, encouraged by the father of the computer, suddenly came up with instructions on her own. Ada’s instructions would play a crucial role in calculating the Numbers of Bernoulli, which would eventually generate the first Analytical Engine. Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815, as Augusta Ada Byron. She was the only child of the marriage between the infamous poet Lord George Gordon Byron and mathematician Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke. The marriage was not a happy one, and the two separated when Ada was just a few weeks old. A few weeks after the divorce, Lord Byron left England for Greece and died when Ada was eight years old. Even though growing up with a single parent was not easy during the 19th century, Ada had received an unusual special education. Ada’s mother was a mathematician herself, and Ada was naturally taught mathematics and science at her mother’s insistence. These subjects were not common for women at the time. Her mother taught that these studies would prevent Lovelace to evolve her father’s moody temperament. Ada was also compelled to lie for extended periods because her mother believed it would help her develop self-control.
Ada Lovelace: The Forgotten Mother of The Computer
Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace: The Forgotten Mother of The Computer
Portrait of Ada Lovelace

Ada’s journey started in June 1833

In this year, Ada (only 17 years old) and her mother attended a demonstration by Charles Babbage of a Difference Engine prototype. Ada was overwhelmed by the invention and described it as a “thinking machine”. After this experience, Ada studied Babbage’s engineering drawings and paved the way to become the world’s first programmer. Inspired by Babbage and his inventions, Ada decided to study calculus and higher mathematics from 1840-41. After being embedded in mathematics and science, Ada came up in 1843 with a paper of her own. The young woman translated and analysed a paper by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea describing the Analytical Engine's workings. This paper gave Ada the opportunity to work with Babbage. After analysing Ada's paper, Babbage encouraged Ada to add her own thoughts, which tripled the original length. Ada discovered that any machine that was capable of manipulating numbers could also run symbols. So, Ada realized that the Analytical Engine could calculate results that had not “been worked out by human head and hands first”. A machine with those skills could create music of “any degree of complexity or extent”. Babbage was astonished by the works of Ada. He was so fond of her works that he referred to her as “that Enchantress who was thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it”. Nowadays, the essential parts of this machine still constitute our modern computers. Ada Lovelace died from uterine cancer on November 27, 1852, in London; she had three children. Her works got little praise back in the day and were not rediscovered until the 1950s. Today, there are just a few remains of Lovelace’s documents, and we need to learn how to deal with all these unanswered questions and ambiguity. However, these few works have already paved a better understanding of Lovelace's life and achievements. The achievements of Ada are just one example of the successes of forgotten women from the past. These examples show that women are capable of great success and add not only inspiration, but also the sense that girls and women can have a special place in people's minds.
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Ada Lovelace: The Forgotten Mother of The Computer

Yilmaz Kadir

Yilmaz wrote for Edition 2, The Forgotten Women of History.
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