The Woman Who Invented Computer Programming
George Gordon, Lord Byron, was a brilliant poet. Here is an example:
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Byron was also a wild man. When he died in 1824, despite his renown, Westminster Abbey in London refused to inter his body because of his “questionable morality.” He was linked to many women throughout his thirty-six years of life, and reputedly fathered several children. He did marry once, to Annabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth, in 1815. The couple separated after a month, and the marriage ended in divorce about a year later, but produced a baby girl, Augusta Ada. Ada’s famous father died (of a fever) when she was eight, fighting for the Greeks in their war of independence with the Ottomans. Ada’s mother asserted that her ex-husband was insane, and supported her young daughter’s interest in math and logic to keep her mind from veering into mental instability. Ada had tutors instructing her in science and math, beginning at age four.
Ada married the Earl of Lovelace in 1835 and became the Countess of Lovelace. Her social standing put her in the presence of prominent scientists, which furthered her education and sharpened her skills.
Ada considered her work poetical science (Although she never met her father, she was inspired by his talent.) She claimed that her mind was marked by “a very high order of poetical genius.” She saw herself as an analyst and a metaphysician. She felt her mathematical work developed her imagination, and had the power to transform her into a poet. She saw mathematics as a language that could express “the great facts” of the natural world and allow, as she said, “the weak mind of man [to] read his Creator’s works.” Ada felt she could bring together the mathematical and poetic traditions.
When she was twelve, Ada had an idea for a flying horse with a steam engine inside, upon the back of which a person would ride. She studied bird anatomy and flight. She investigated materials for immense wings. She conceived a book, Flyology, with her notes and plates.
As a teenager, Ada became a friend, and finally a colleague, of mathematician Charles Babbage.
Babbage worked on the idea of a digital programmable computer, which he called the Analytical Engine. He had developed mechanical computers, the basic design of which were not unlike modern computers. He worked on a Difference Engine, which could tabulate values of polynomial functions by a method of differences. His more complex Analytical Engine could develop and tabulate any function whatever. It took computation from mechanized arithmetic to a multitude of purposes
Ada Lovelace entered Babbage’s development of the Analytical Engine. In 1842, she spent nine months translating a sketch of Babbage’s Analytical Engine by Italian mathematician and military engineer, Luigi Menabrea. Ada provided her own set of seven notes, A through G, which were three times longer than the Menabrea “memoir” itself. In her notes, Ada explained how the Analytical Engine differed from the Difference Engine. As she explained, the Analytical Engine is an embodiment of the science of operations, constructed with peculiar reference to abstract number as the subject of those operations. The Difference Engine is the embodiment of one particular and very limited set of operations.
Ada’s final Note G provided an algorithm for computing Bernoulli numbers (a uniform formula for all sums of powers and their coefficients) with the Analytical Engine. It was determined that had Babbage’s Analytical Engine been fully built, Ada’s method would have worked successfully. For this fact, Ada’s notes are seen as a description of a computer and software. Her method is considered the first computer program. Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer.
Ada recognized the potential of an analytical engine beyond calculating numbers. She foresaw computer applications to any process that had logical symbols as a basis: numbers, letters, musical notes. As she stated, “the engine might even compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” Her insights built the bridge from calculation to computation. Through the language of mathematics, a machine can compose and create as precisely and beautifully as a poet.
Ada Lovelace garnered little attention in her lifetime for her contributions to computing. When she and Babbage published their results in 1843, few noticed. When the material was republished in 1953, in B.V. Bowden’s book, Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines (available on Amazon), just as the field of computer science was burgeoning, Ada gained an audience and her due recognition.
A computer programming language, named Ada, is now in use in real-time systems in aviation, health care, transportation, finance, infrastructure, and space industries.
For a taste of Ada’s brilliance, read her Translator’s Notes at https://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/sketch.html
For more information on Ada Lovelace and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths), go to findingada.com