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Thu Dec 10, 2015, 10:20 PM

Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (b 10 dec 1815) founder of scientific computing

(one would think that google could have come up with a doodle for her today)

Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace ADA BYRON, COUNTESS OF LOVELACE
Born: London, England, December 10, 1815
Died: London, England, November 27, 1852
Analyst, Metaphysician, and Founder of Scientific Computing

Ada Byron was the daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother, Lady Byron. Her life was an apotheosis of struggle between emotion and reason, subjectivism and objectivism, poetics and mathematics, ill health and bursts of energy.

Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies. But Ada's complex inheritance became apparent as early as 1828, when she produced the design for a flying machine. It was mathematics that gave her life its wings.

Lady Byron and Ada moved in an elite London society, one in which gentlemen not members of the clergy or occupied with politics or the affairs of a regiment were quite likely to spend their time and fortunes pursuing botany, geology, or astronomy. In the early nineteenth century there were no "professional" scientists (indeed, the word "scientist" was only coined by William Whewell in 1836)--but the participation of noblewomen in intellectual pursuits was not widely encouraged.

One of the gentlemanly scientists of the era was to become Ada's lifelong friend. Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, was known as the inventor of the Difference Engine, an elaborate calculating machine that operated by the method of finite differences. Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began a voluminous correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects.

. . . .

Ada called herself "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)," and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for "developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity." Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.

. . . . .


Ada Lovelace, c. 1838
Credit: Science Museum

Bernoulli number 'algorithm', Ada Lovelace, 1843

The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was born Augusta Ada Byron, the only legitimate child of Annabella Milbanke and the poet Lord Byron. Her mother, Lady Byron, had mathematical training (Byron called her his 'Princess of Parallelograms') and insisted that Ada, who was tutored privately, study mathematics too - an unusual education for a woman.

Ada met Babbage at a party in 1833 when she was seventeen and was entranced when Babbage demonstrated the small working section of the Engine to her. She intermitted her mathematical studies for marriage and motherhood but resumed when domestic duties allowed. In 1843 she published a translation from the French of an article on the Analytical Engine by an Italian engineer, Luigi Menabrea, to which Ada added extensive notes of her own. The Notes included the first published description of a stepwise sequence of operations for solving certain mathematical problems and Ada is often referred to as 'the first programmer'. The collaboration with Babbage was close and biographers debate the extent and originality of Ada's contribution.

Perhaps more importantly, the article contained statements by Ada that from a modern perspective are visionary. She speculated that the Engine 'might act upon other things besides number... the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent'. The idea of a machine that could manipulate symbols in accordance with rules and that number could represent entities other than quantity mark the fundamental transition from calculation to computation. Ada was the first to explicitly articulate this notion and in this she appears to have seen further than Babbage. She has been referred to as 'prophet of the computer age'. Certainly she was the first to express the potential for computers outside mathematics. In this the tribute is well-founded.


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