Today we are talking about the mother of computers, which is gonna seem odd because she died nearly 100 years before the first computer was ever completed. Her work with Charles Babbage was ahead of its time but her influence and innovation is still inspiring men and women all over the world. Your Gal, Ada Lovelace.
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Augusta Ada King-Noel, was born in London on December 10, 1815. Her mother was Anne Isabella Milbanke but known by “Annabella.” Ada’s father was the famous poet Lord Byron and she was only legitimate child to him. He was expecting his baby to be a boy and was disappointed when his wife gave birth to a girl. Augusta was named after Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and was nicknamed “Ada” by Lord Byron.
It wasn’t enough to get him to stay and Byron separated from his Annabella a month after Ada was born and never saw his child again. It is thought he only married to alleviate a possible scandal he had with his half sister. He died in 1824 when Ada was eight years old.
Annabella was the only significant parental figure in Ada’s life. Except that Annabella did not have a close relationship with Ada either. Often Ada was left in the care of her own mother Judith. However, because of societal attitudes of the time, Annabella had to present herself as a loving mother to the rest of society as well as poke her nose in Ada’s business from time to time.
Annabella remained bitter towards Lord Byron and promoted Ada’s interest in mathematics and logic in an effort to prevent her from developing what she saw as the insanity seen in her father. Annabella was certain that poetry and the arts made Lord Byron mad and she didn’t want that for her daughter.
Ada was often sick in her childhood. At the age of eight, she experienced headaches that messed with her vision. In June 1829, she was paralyzed after a bout of measles and subjected to continuous bed rest for nearly a year. She spent the time studying and dreaming about things like flying machines.
By 1831, she was able to walk with crutches. At age 12 she decided she definitely wanted to fly. Ada went about the project methodically, thoughtfully, with imagination and passion. Her first step, in February 1828, was to construct wings. She investigated different material and sizes. She considered various materials for the wings: paper, oil-silk, wires, and feathers. She examined the anatomy of birds to determine the right proportion between the wings and the body. She decided to write a book, Flyology. But the first flight wasn’t actually until 1903, this was just the first time Ada was well ahead of her time, but not the last.
Meeting Charles Babbage
Her tutor Mary Somerville introduced Ada to mathematician Charles Babbage in 1883.
Babbage used to double check mathematical publications at the Royal Astronomical society in London and would find multiple errors. When he found errors in calculations for ships tides and knew these human errors could have dire consequences he knew there needed to be a machine that would calculate correctly. He made a demo machine and called it Difference Engine #1. It solved polynomial calculations.
Babbage would show this demo at dinner parties and social events. When Ada saw the device she called it “The Thinking Machine.” The two would write letters but it would be a few years before they started working together. Babbage would go on to do lectures and tours and apply for a grant from the British government to build a full Difference Engine.
Ada and Babbage reconnected in 1842. An Italian Mathematician wrote down notes from Babbage’s lectures about a new machine an Analytical Engine and Ada was brought in to translate.
Babbage had grown frustrated with the precise machine parts needed to finish the full scale Difference Engine. The faults with the first machine could be fixed and allow for more calculations in the new Analytical Machine.
Think of it this way; the Difference Engine was for numbers. The Analytical Machine was a general-purpose computing machine and was the future for the modern day computer.
Here is a video of the Difference Engine built in 1991 and it works.
First Computer Program
Not only did Ada translate the notes on the Analytical Engine but she added notes that were three times longer than the original document and she worked on the paper for a year. She included how the Analytical Engine was different from the Difference Engine in attempts to convince funding as well as method for calculating a sequence using Bernoulli numbers with the new engine. (More on Bernoulli numbers and the math family of Bernoulli’s in the podcast episode.)
She included an algorithm for the engine to compute the B variables by plugging into the decimal equivalent, therefore creating the first computer program.
Also in her notes she saw beyond the powerful calculations for numbers but also the potential she wrote:
[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.
Basically modern computers and dub step.
Her Early Death
Ada’s mind was amazing but her body continued to fail her. In a very weird conscience, Ada died at age 36 (the same as as her father) and was buried, at her request next to him at St. Mary Magdalene in Nottinghamshire. It is presumed Ada died of Uterine cancer in 1852.
Ada’s work continues to live on which is amazing because the machine she primarly on, the Analytical Engine was never fully built.
There is Ada Lovelace Day held the second Tuesday in October. Founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson, independently-organized celebrations are held around the world to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM and encourage more girls into STEM.
Kate & Phoebe dig into more of what a the Analytical Engine was, the basics of a computer program, the history of computers, as well as what they learned from Ada. Listen Here.
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ABOUT YOUR GAL FRIDAY
Your Gal Friday is a weekly podcast with supplemental video and article profiling and amazing gal of our galaxy that we can all learn from. Each month your hosts Kate Chaplin & Phoebe Frear talk about the life and legacy about a gal in the subjects of art, history, science and culture.
Your Gal Friday also ties into Gal’s Guide school outreach. Gal’s Guide offers a K-University presentations of Women You Didn’t Learn About in School. Showcasing 14-26 amazing gals to classrooms and assemblies, the presentations spotlight these gals where the podcast goes more in depth of your new favorite gals every Friday.
- #9 Susan B. Anthony (History)
- #10 SPECIAL Women Film Pioneers (Art)
- #11 Mary Anderson (Science)
- #12 Julia Child (Culture)