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Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace
  1815 - 1852
   

Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace aspired to be "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)", a title she presciently invented for herself at a time when the notion of "professional scientist" had not even taken full form. She not only met her expectations, but is generally regarded as the first person to anticipate the general purpose computer, and in many senses the world's first "computer programmer".

A complex intellect, Ada was the daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron -- who separated from her mother only weeks after Ada's birth, and never met his daughter Ada -- and Annabella (Lady Byron), who was herself educated as both a mathematician and a poet.

By the age of 8 Ada was adept at building detailed model boats. By the age of 13 she had produced the design for a flying machine. At the same time she was becoming an accomplished musician, learning to play piano, violin, and harp, and had a passion for gymnastics, dancing, and riding.

Ada set her sights on meeting Mary Somerville, a mathematician who had translated the works of Laplace into English. And it was through her acquaintance with Mary Sommerville that, in 1834, Ada met Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge -- a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton.

Babbage was the inventor of a calculating machine known as the "Difference Engine", so-named because it operated based on the method of finite differences.

Ada was struck by the "universality" of Babbage's ideas -- something few others saw at the time.  What was to become a life-long friendship blossomed, with correspondence that started with the topics of mathematics and logic, and burgeoned to include all manner of subjects.

In 1834 Babbage had already begun planning for a new type of calculating machine -- the "Analytical Engine", conjecturing a calculating machine that could not only foresee, but act.

When Babbage reported on his plans for this new "Analytical Engine" at a conference in Turin in 1841, one of the attendees, Luigi Menabrea, was so impressed that he wrote an account of Babbage's at lectures. Ada, then 27, married to the Earl of Lovelace, and the mother of three children under the age of eight, translated Menabrea's article from French into English. Babbage suggested she add her own explanatory notes.

What emerged was "The Sketch of the Analytical Engine", published as an article in 1843, with Ada's notes being twice as long as the original material. It became the definitive work on the subject of what was to eventually become "computing".

Ada's notes were divided into sections. Note A was not simply technical, but philosophical than technical, and it was in Note A that Ada anticipated what we would call a general purpose computer, suited to:

"The Analytical Engine . is not merely adapted for tabulating ... but for developing and tabulating any function whatever.  In fact the engine may be described as being the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity ... "
    -from Note A

In Note A, Ada writes about the Analytical Engine's potential to do anything we are able to instruct it to do -- including, if it were properly provided with rules of harmony and composition, produce "scientific" music.

"Again, it [the Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number , were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine ...  Supposing for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent."
      - from Note A

There is a poetry in Ada's comparison of the Analytical Engine and the Jaquard loom:

"We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves."

Notes B through F delve into the functions and capabilities of the Analytical engine.

Note D is particularly prescient. It sets out the method for calculating the Bernoulli number sequence, and is generally regarded as the first "computer program".

Note G which includes a discussion of the future capabilities of the Analytical Engine, is a remarkable anticipation of the modern day computer:

"The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate any thing. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with.   ... It is likely to exert an indirect and reciprocal influence on science itself in another manner. For in so distributing and combining the truths and formulas of analysis  ... the relations and the nature of many subjects in that science are necessarily thrown into new lights, and more profoundly investigated."
      - from Note G

In 1852, Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, died from cervical cancer. She was 36 years old.

At her own request, Ada Byron was buried at the family estate, beside her father whom she never met.

Ada Byron's father, Lord Byron , had also died at age 36.  It is reported that one of the last things he said was

"Oh my poor dear child! My dear Ada! My god, could I but have seen her!"   
  -attributed to Lord Byron

Charles Babbage never completed a working model of the Difference Engine or the Analytical Engine.

One year after Ada's death George and Edward Scheutz built a working model of the "Difference Engine" from one of Babbage's original early designs.

In 1980, the United States Department of Defense completed a new computer language.

This advanced new computer language was named "Ada".

The Portrait of Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

Ada is portrayed in a simple contemporary engraving.

Ada's portrait is overlaid with a notation from the Notes she wrote in"Sketch of the Analytical Engine", which anticipates the modern-day general purpose computer and modern computer programming.

The color scheme of the portrait of Ada echoes that of Pascal, the other mathematician credited with being a precursor of modern computing.

 
 
       
 
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