Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace : biography

10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852

In the UK, the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium, the annual conference for women undergraduates is named after Ada Lovelace.

On the 197th anniversary of her birth, Google dedicated its Google Doodle to her. The doodle shows Lovelace working on a formula along with images that show the evolution of the computer.

Publications

  • with notes by trans. Ada Lovelace, in Scientific Memoirs, Vol 3 (1842).

Work

Throughout her life, Ada was strongly interested in scientific developments and fads of the day, including phrenology and mesmerism. Even after her famous work with Babbage, Ada continued to work on other projects. In 1844, she would comment to a friend Woronzow Greig about her desire to create a mathematical model for how the brain gives rise to thoughts and nerves to feelings ("a calculus of the nervous system"), though she would never achieve this: in part, this was due to a long-running preoccupation, inherited from her mother, about her ‘potential’ madness. As part of her research into this project, she visited electrical engineer Andrew Crosse in 1844 to learn how to carry out electrical experiments. In the same year, she wrote a review of a paper by Baron Karl von Reichenbach, , but this was not published and does not appear to have progressed past the first draft. In 1851, the year before her cancer struck, she wrote to her mother mentioning "certain productions" she was working on regarding the relation of maths and music.

Ada Lovelace met and corresponded with Charles Babbage on many occasions, including socially and in relation to Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine. They first met through their mutual friend Mary Somerville; Lovelace became fascinated with the Difference Engine and used her relationship with Somerville to visit him as often as she could. In later years, she became acquainted with Babbage’s Italian friend Fortunato Prandi, an associate of revolutionaries.

Babbage was impressed by Lovelace’s intellect and analytic skills. He called her "The Enchantress of Numbers". In 1843 he wrote of her:

During a nine-month period in 1842–43, Ada translated Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on Babbage’s newest proposed machine, the Analytical Engine. With the article, she appended a set of notes. Explaining the Analytical Engine’s function was a difficult task, as even other scientists did not really grasp the concept and the British establishment was uninterested in it. Ada’s notes had to even explain how the Engine differed from the original Difference Engine. The notes are longer than the memoir itself and include (in Section G), in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which would have run correctly had the Analytical Engine been built (only his Difference Engine has been built, completed in London in 2002). Based on this work, Ada is now widely credited with being the first computer programmer and her method is recognised as the world’s first computer program.Gleick, J. (2011) The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood, London, Fourth Estate, pp. 116–18. Her work was well received at the time: Michael Faraday would describe himself as a fan of her writing.

Lovelace and Babbage had a minor falling out when the papers were published, when he tried to leave his own statement (a criticism of the government’s treatment of his Engine) as an unsigned preface – which would imply that she had written that also. When “Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs” ruled that the statement should be signed, Babbage wrote to Ada asking her to withdraw the paper. This was the first that she knew he was leaving it unsigned, and she wrote back refusing to withdraw the paper. Historian Benjamin Woolley has theorized that "his actions suggested he had so enthusiastically sought Ada’s involvement, and so happily indulged her… because of her ‘celebrated name’".

Their friendship would recover after this and they continued to correspond. In 12 August 1851, when she was dying of cancer, Ada wrote to him asking him to be her executor, though this letter did not give him the necessary legal authority.