Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace : biography

10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852

In 1841, Lovelace and Medora Leigh (daughter of Lord Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh) were told by Ada’s mother that her father was also Medora’s father. On 27 February 1841, Ada wrote to her mother: "I am not in the least astonished. In fact you merely confirm what I have for years and years felt scarcely a doubt about, but should have considered it most improper in me to hint to you that I in any way suspected". Ada did not blame the incestuous relationship on Byron, but instead blamed Augusta Leigh: "I fear she is more inherently wicked than he ever was". This did not prevent Ada’s mother from attempting to destroy her daughter’s image of her father, but instead drove her to attack Byron’s image with greater intensity.

In the 1840s, Ada would flirt with scandals: firstly from a relaxed relationship with men who were not her husband, which led to rumours of affairs; and secondly her love of gambling, which led to her forming a syndicate with her male friends, and an ambitious attempt in 1851 to create a mathematical model for successful large bets. This went disastrously wrong, leaving her thousands of pounds in debt and being blackmailed by one of the syndicate, forcing her to admit the mess to her husband. Ada also had a shadowy, possibly illicit relationship with Andrew Crosse’s son John from 1844 onwards. Few hard facts are known about this because Crosse destroyed most of their correspondence after her death as part of a legal agreement; however, the relationship was strong enough that she bequeathed him the only heirlooms her father had personally left to her. During her final illness, Ada would panic at the idea of John Crosse being kept from visiting her.

Death

Ada Lovelace died at the age of thirty-six, on 27 November 1852,. from uterine cancer probably exacerbated by bloodletting by her physicians. The illness lasted several months, in which time Annabella would take command over whom Ada saw, and excluded all of her friends and confidants. Under her mother’s influence, she had a religious transformation (after previously being a materialist) and was coaxed into repenting of her previous conduct and making Annabella her executor. Contact was lost with her husband after she confessed something to him on 30 August, causing him to abandon her bedside; what she told him is not known but has since been suggested that it was a confession of adultery.

She was buried, at her request, next to her father at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottingham.

Education

Throughout her illnesses, she continued her education. Her mother’s obsession with rooting out any of the insanity of which she accused Lord Byron was one of the reasons that Ada was taught mathematics from an early age. She was privately schooled in mathematics and science by William Frend, William KingSources disagree on whether William King, her math tutor, and William King, her later husband, were the same person. and Mary Somerville, noted researcher and scientific author of the 19th century. Somerville introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage on 5 June 1833. One of her later tutors was the noted mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan. From 1832, when she was seventeen, her remarkable mathematical abilities began to emerge, and her interest in mathematics dominated the majority of her adult life. In a letter to Lady Byron, De Morgan suggested that her daughter’s skill in mathematics could lead her to become "an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence".

Conceptual leap

In her notes, Lovelace emphasized the difference between the Analytical Engine and previous calculating machines, particularly its ability to be programmed to solve problems of any complexity. Lovelace realized that the potential of the device extended far beyond mere number crunching. She wrote:

This analysis was a conceptual leap from previous ideas about the capabilities of computing devices, and foreshadowed the capabilities and implications of the modern computer. This insight is seen as significant by writers such as Betty Toole and Benjamin Woolley, as well as programmer John Graham-Cumming, whose project Plan 28 has the aim of constructing the first complete Analytical Engine.

Titles and styles by which she was known

  • 10 December 1815 – 8 July 1835: The Honorable Ada Augusta Byron
  • 8 July 1835 – 1838: The Right Honorable The Lady King
  • 1838 – 27 November 1852: The Right Honorable The Countess of Lovelace

Notes

Ancestry

First computer program

In 1842, Charles Babbage was invited to give a seminar at the University of Turin about his analytical engine. Luigi Menabrea, a young Italian engineer, and future Prime Minister of Italy, wrote up Babbage’s lecture in French, and this transcript was subsequently published in the Bibliothèque universelle de Genève in October 1842.

Babbage’s friend Charles Wheatstone, commissioned Ada to translate Menabrea’s paper into English. She and Babbage then augmented the paper with notes, which were added to the translation. Ada spent the better part of a year doing this. These notes, which are more extensive than Menabrea’s paper, were then published in The Ladies’ Diary and Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs under the initialism "AAL".

In 1953, over one hundred years after her death, Ada’s notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine were republished. The engine has now been recognized as an early model for a computer and Ada’s notes as a description of a computer and software.

Lovelace’s notes were labelled alphabetically from A to G. In note G, she describes an algorithm for the analytical engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. It is considered the first algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer, and Ada is often cited as the first computer programmer for this reason; however, the engine has never been completed, so her code never tested.