Ada Lovelace is a metaphysician, analyst, and the founder of scientific computing, and described what she did as “poetical science”.
Also known as the “Enchantress of Numbers”, her passion and contributions have served as inspiration to modern women around the world.
Life and Education
Born Augusta Ada Byron in London on December 10, 1815, she was the daughter the well-known romantic poet Lord George Byron and Anne Isabella “Annabella” Milbanke. Their marriage was brief and Lord Byron left shortly after Ada was born. English law stated that the father is granted full custody of children in the event of separation, but he did not show any interest in exercising his parental rights. He left England and died in Greece in 1823 when Ada was just 8 years old, never seeing his daughter again. Ada on the other hand, was not allowed to even view a portrait of her father until she turned twenty.
Annabella did not want her to end up as a poet like her father, as she could not bear that unpredictable nature that Lord Byron had. She was slightly distant to her child and would often leave Ada with Hon. Lady Milbanke, who spoiled her grandchild. However, she kept up with the appearance of being a loving mother because it was what society expected of her. In fact, Annabella frequently sent letters to Lady Milbanke asking about how Ada was doing in case she would eventually need evidence that she deeply cared about her child.
Ada was a sickly child, and would often have terrible bouts of headache. She suffered from measles and was left paralyzed, and was under bed rest for almost a year. She regained to ability to walk in 1831, with the help of crutches.
Ada was exposed to rigorous tutoring in logic, Mathematics and science, and Ada’s inclination towards complex things became apparent when she came up with a design for a flying machine in 1828, when she was just 13 years old. She also created different designs for boats, and would endlessly look at diagram after diagram of new inventions from the Industrial Revolution that were published in all the scientific magazines she could find. Her great exposure to Mathematics formed the person she was to become and prepared her for the contributions she was to give to the modern world.
Ada married an aristocrat, William King, in 1835 when she was 19 years old. King was ten years her senior. After three years, King inherited a noble title, making them the Earl and Countess of Lovelace. This was how she became known as Ada Lovelace, instead of Lady Ada King. They had three children together, but their family and fortune was still greatly influenced by Ada’s mother, Lady Byron. King accepted Lady Byron’s domineering personality and rarely opposed her decisions.
Lady Byron took on William Benjamin Carpenter to serve as a tutor for King and Ada’s children. However, he fell in love with Ada and continued to pursue her despite the circumstances. Ada was not comfortable about this and cut off any communication with him.
Notable Contributions and Works
It was an era where noblewomen were not expected nor encouraged to be intellectual. Still, Ada continued to pursue her passion for numbers and logic.
Ada developed a strong respect for her tutor, Mary Sommerville, and they continued corresponding for years. She was also acquaintances with other intellectuals like Andrew Crosse, Charles Wheatstone, and Charles Dickens.
In 1883, she met Charles Babbage through Mary Sommerville. He was a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge. This meeting would later on prove to grow into a lifelong friendship, as their mutual interests became the source of their constant correspondence. They would talk about their theories, beliefs, and visions, and she was left fascinated by the work that Babbage did. Charles Babbage was the one who initially called her as the “Enchantress of Numbers”.
Charles Babbage has already gained popularity at that time, and had previously been working on a Difference Engine, a machine that would have the ability to compute for polynomials by using the differences method. Because of a number of personal tragedies and continued disagreements between him and his chief engineer, Joseph Clement, Babbage’s frustrations about the whole project became evident and the government ceased its support for the project in 1842. This paved the way for him to concentrate on a calculating machine, and Analytical Engine.
Although the plans for this project had been drawn in 1834, the government refused to fund it because of the unfinished Difference Engine. However, this project earned interest from abroad. The Italian Mathematician Louis Menebrea discussed the Analytical Engine in a French memoir in 1842. This was where Ada proved to be most useful for Babbage. She was hired to translate the memoir from French to English. Ada worked on the memoir non-stop, working on it within a nine month period from 1842 to 1843. She also added her own notes to the translated memoir, which later on became critical in the work of Alan Turing, Father of Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence as he worked on building the first modern computers during the 1940’s. These notes were seen as the first set of algorithms that were to be followed by a machine. They were longer than the memoir itself, and explained in great detail how the Analytical Engine differed from the Difference Engine. And though Babbage and a lot of other people in the same field concentrated merely on a computer’s capacity for calculating and number crunching, Ada believed in the vision that a computer can do so much more than that.
Ada Lovelace died at the early age of 36 in 1852 due to uterine cancer. Before she died, her husband abandoned her after she was rumored to have confessed to an affair. She was buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottingham beside her father as per her request, because her interest in him never subsided despite never having met him.