Why Ada Lovelace is an Inspiration for Women in Tech Everywhere
Who was Ada Lovelace?
Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron, famous as much for his hellraising, romantic entanglements and friendships with other writers as for his poems. Byron died of a fever when his daughter was eight, and they never had a relationship.
Her mother, educational reformer and philanthopist Lady Anne Byron, was keen to encourage her daughter in the world of science. Part of this was to help Ada avoid her father’s insanity, which Anne believed was the cause (or result) of his unconventional lifestyle.
Ada Lovelace spent much of her childhood with her maternal grandmother. But by the age of 12, her interest in science and mathematics became apparent, and tutors were arranged to educate her further.
Her tutor, Mary Somerville, herself a scientist, introduced Ada to Charles Babbage, a mechanical engineer credited as being the inventor of the first mechanical computer. Byron’s daughter became Ada Lovelace on her marriage to Baron William King, later first earl of Lovelace.
What Was Her Contribution to the World of Tech?
Her maths skills really came to the forefront when she was 17, and it was her life’s focus from then on. Ada even attempted to develop a mathematical model for betting on the horses, fuelled by her fondness for gambling.
However, it was her connections with Somerville and Babbage that led to Ada Lovelace making an impact on tech as we know it today. These led to becoming acquainted with many other leading scientists of the day.
She knew Andrew Crosse, Sir David Brewster and Michael Faraday (of the Faraday Cage). Crosse taught her to carry out electrical experiments of her own as part of her studies into how the brain worked. And she began a study into magnetism, sadly abandoned when she became ill.
Ada Lovelace also saw far greater potential for the Analytical Machine than its inventor. So while Babbage focused on the number crunching, Ada realised a computer could manipulate images, letters, musical notes and more. And she wrote down her theories in 1843.
Ada Lovelace and Computing
You might wonder how a 19th century scientist could be a computer programmer before computers. So, it’s a bit confusing, but this is how it came about that Ada Lovelace was the first of them:
1. Ada’s colleague Babbage gave a talk in Turin in 1850 about his Analytical Engine (a mechanical, all-purpose computer)
2. An Italian engineer transcribed it into French
3. Ada then translated it into English, adding lots more detail from her own notes. This was published under her initials
4. The notes contained an algorithm for Babbage’s machine to calculate Bernoulli numbers (a sequence of rational numbers used in analysis)
As the Analytical Engine was a prototype computer, the algorithm Ada Lovelace devised was therefore a ‘computer programme’. Although sadly, the machine was never finished.
Are there any other female mathematicians or scientists we should be championing? Let us know in the comments!