On December 10, 1815, Anna Isabella (Annabella) Byron, whose husband
was Lord Byron, gave birth to a daughter, Augusta Ada. Ada's father
was a romantic poet whose fame derived not only from his works but
also from his wild and scandalous behavior. His marriage to
Annabella was strained from the beginning, and Annabella left Byron
just a little more than a month after Ada was born. By April of that
year, Annabella and Byron signed separation papers, and Byron left
England, never to return.
Byron's writings show that he greatly regretted that he was unable to
see his daughter. In one poem, for example, he wrote of Ada,
I see thee not. I hear thee not.
But none can be so rapt in thee.
Byron died in Greece at the age of 36, and one of the last things he said was,
Oh my poor dear child! My dear Ada! My God, could I but have
Meanwhile, Annabella, who was eventually to become a baroness in her
own right, and who was herself educated as both a mathematician and a
poet, carried on with Ada's upbringing and education. Annabella gave
Ada her first instruction in mathematics, but it soon became clear
that Ada's gift for the subject was such that it required more
extensive tutoring. Ada received further training in mathematics
from Augustus DeMorgan, who is today famous for one of the basic
theorems of Boolean algebra, which forms the basis for modern
computers. By the age of eight, Ada also had demonstrated an
interest in mechanical devices and was building detailed model boats.
When she was 18, Ada visited the Mechanics Institute to hear Dr.
Dionysius Lardner's lectures on the "difference engine," a mechanical
calculating machine being built by Charles Babbage. She became so
interested in the device that she arranged to be introduced to
Babbage. It was said that, upon seeing Babbage's machine, Ada was
the only person in the room to understand immediately how it worked
and to appreciate its significance.
Ada and Babbage became good friends and she worked with him for the
rest of her life, helping to document his designs, translating
writings about his work, and developing programs to be used on his
machines. Unfortunately, Babbage never completed construction of any
of his designs. Even so, today Ada is recognized as being the first
computer programmer in history. That title, however, does not do full
justice to her genius.
Around the time that Babbage met Ada, he began the design for an even
more ambitious machine called the "analytical engine," which we now
recognize was the first programmable computer. Ada instantly grasped
the implications of the device and foresaw its application in ways
that even Babbage did not imagine. Ada believed that mathematics
eventually would develop into a system of symbols that could be used
to represent anything in the universe. From her notes, it is clear
that Ada saw that the analytical engine could go beyond arithmetic
computations and become a general manipulator of symbols, and thus it
would be capable of almost anything. She even suggested that such a
device could eventually be programmed with rules of harmony and
composition so that it could produce "scientific" music. In effect,
Ada foresaw the field of artificial intelligence over 150 years ago.
In 1842, Babbage went to Turin, Italy, and gave a series of lectures
on his analytical engine. One of the attendees was Luigi Menabrea,
who was so impressed that he wrote an account of Babbage's
lectures. At age 27, Ada decided to translate the account into
English, with the intent to add a few of her own notes about the
machine. In the end, her notes were twice as long as the original
material, and the document, "The Sketch of the Analytical Engine,"
became the definitive work on the subject.
It is obvious from Ada's letters that her "notes" were entirely her
own and that Babbage was acting as a sometimes unappreciated editor.
At one point, Ada wrote to him,
"I am much annoyed at your having altered my Note. You know I am
always willing to make any required alterations myself, but that I
cannot endure another person to meddle with my sentences."
Ada gained the title Countess of Lovelace when she married Lord
William Lovelace. The couple had three children, but Ada was so
consumed by her love of mathematics that she left their upbringing to
her mother. For a woman of that day, such behavior was considered
almost as scandalous as some of her father's exploits, but her
husband was actually quite supportive of her work.
In 1852, Ada died from cancer. Sadly, if she had lived just one year
longer, she would have witnessed the unveiling of a working
difference engine built from one of Babbage's designs by George and
Edward Scheutz in Sweden. Like her father, Ada lived only until she
was 36, and, even though they led much different lives, she
undoubtedly admired Byron and took inspiration from his
unconventional and rebellious nature. At the end, Ada asked to be
buried beside him at the family's estate.
Ada Lovelace biography material excerpted from "Programming and
Problem Solving with Ada 95" by Dale, Weems, and McCormick. Jones &
The film "To Dream Tomorrow" from Flare Productions,
www.flarefilms.org, tells the story of Ada Lovelace and her
contributions to computing. I recommend it to all Team-Ada
members. See if you can find the error on her tomb.
John W. McCormick [log in to unmask]
Computer Science Department
University of Northern Iowa voice (319) 273-6056
Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0507 fax (319) 273-7123