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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 one of struggle between emotion and reason, 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 legacy 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 division were quite likely to spend their time and fortunes pursuing botany, geology, or astronomy. In the early nineteenth century there were no "professional" scientists but the participation of noblewomen in intellectual pursuits was not widely encouraged.
In 1835, Ada married William King, ten years her senior, and when King inherited a noble title in 1838, they became the Earl and Countess of Lovelace. Ada had three children. The family and its fortunes were very much directed by Lady Byron, whose domineering was rarely opposed by King.
At the age of 17 Ada was introduced to Mary Somerville, a remarkable woman and whose texts were used at Cambridge. Though Mrs. Somerville encouraged Ada in her mathematical studies, she also attempted to put mathematics and technology into an appropriate human context. It was at a dinner party at Mrs. Somerville's that Ada heard in November 1834, Babbage's ideas for a new calculating engine, the Analytical Engine. He conjectured: what if a calculating engine could not only foresee but could act on that foresight. Ada was touched by his ideas. Hardly anyone else was. Babbage worked on plans for this new engine and reported on the developments at a seminar in Turin, Italy in the autumn of 1841. An Italian, Menabrea, wrote a summary of what Babbage described and published an article in French about the development.
Ada, in 1843, married to the Earl of Lovelace and the mother of three children under the age of eight, translated Menabrea's article.
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Charles Babbage, a scientist of the era was to become Ada's lifelong friend. He was a 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.
Babbage had made plans in 1834 for a new kind of calculating machine (although the Difference Engine was not finished), an Analytical Engine. His Parliamentary sponsors refused to support a second machine with the first unfinished, but Babbage found sympathy for his new project abroad. In 1842, an Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea, published a memoir in French on the subject of the Analytical Engine. Babbage enlisted Ada as translator for the memoir, and during a nine-month period in 1842-43, she worked feverishly on the article and a set of notes she appended to it. These are the source of her enduring fame.
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. Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.
When inspired Ada could be very focused and a mathematical taskmaster. Ada suggested to Babbage writing a plan for how the engine might calculate Bernoulli numbers. This plan is now regarded as the first "computer program." A software language developed by the U.S. Department of Defense was named "Ada" in her honor in 1979.
After she wrote the description of Babbage's Analytical Engine her life was plagued with illnesses, and her social life, in addition to Charles Babbage, included Sir David Brewster (the originator of the kaleidoscope), Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday and Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens supposedly once said to Ada stop haunting me. When she was thirty-three, Ada spent some time in Brighton with Charles Dickens. Soon afterwards (February 18, 1849), he wrote her that strange things were happening at his hotel. He wondered whether Ada was "haunting" him, and if so: "I hope you won't do so." Three years later, Dickens visited Ada at her deathbed. He was one of the last non-family members, other than her
Her interests ranged from music to horses to calculating machines. She has been used as a character in Gibson and Sterling's the Difference Engine, shown writing letters to Babbage in the series " The Machine that Changed the World" and I have gathered her letters and writings in "Ada, The Enchantress of Numbers: A Selection from the Letters of Lord Byron's Daughter and Her Description of the First Computer Though her life was short (like her father, she died at 36), Ada anticipated by more than a century most of what we think is brand-new computing.
Toole, B.A., Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers. Mill Valley, CA.: Strawberry Press, 1992.
Baum, J., The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron. Archon Books, 1986.
Anonymous author, Ada Lovelace: Founder of Scientific Computing. Located at America On Line @ hhtp://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/lovelace.html
Anonymous author, The Babbage Pages: Ada Lovelace. Located at America On Line @ http://www.ex.ac.uk/BABBAGE/ada.html
Anonymous author, Selection from Ada’s Notes. Located at America On Line @ http://www.agesscott.edu/lriddle/women/Ada-love.html