Ada Lovelace

Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child!

ADA! sole daughter of my house and heart?

When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,

And then we parted, — not as now we part, But with a hope. –( Child Harold Pilgrimages, Canto III)

Ada Lovelace never saw her father, yet in a way he never left her. Her name Augusta Ada, for example, was always to remind her the scandalous liaison he had had with her aunt Augusta Leigh, actually, his step sister, who was so dear to him to dispose that his daughter should be named after her. Easy to guess, her parents’ marriage came to an end soon and the small talk concerning the circumstances of their divorce would follow her till her death. This may happen when your father is poetry super star George Byron. The swelling tide of rumours about his indecorous conduct forced him to leave the country when Ada was only five weeks old, never to come  back. He died in Greece, when she was only eight years old.

Her mother, who came from a rich family and was a renowned mathematician, in a way feared her daughter might be inclined to the study of humanities just like her father and introduced Ada to her own field of expertise. It was soon evident that the magic of words was not to be in her future, but rather the enchant of numbers. At the age of 12 she made the project of a steam power flight machine. As a true scientist she studied birds’ mechanisms of flight, and then examined various materials, including silk, feathers and paper, with which to build wings. She jotted down the results of her research and recorded each experiment in an illustrated guide, entitled Flyology . One of her tutors proclaimed that if a young male student had her skills “they would have certainly made him an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”. But she was just a girl.

Lady Byron decided to enhance Ada’s natural aptitude to Math entrusting her training to Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician, who in 1835 would become the first woman to be accepted, as an honorary member, by the Royal Astronomical Society. Once out in society at the age of 17, it is Mary Sommerville that  introduced Ada to William King, who will become her husband and make her Countess of Lovelace and scientist Charles Babbage, the inventor the “Difference Engine”, a first model of automatic calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions.

When Ada was invited by Babbage himself to see a demonstration of how the “Difference Engine” worked, she was strongly impressed. She couldn’t know it then, but the “Difference Engine” would change her life and would also be the beginning of a long friendship and a fruitful working relationship with Babbage.The man, who at first underestimated that curious girl, began to change his mind and to open up more. They began to correspond about science and even to discuss his ever evolving projects. He also encouraged Ada to indulge her evident predisposition for numbers and to put her potential to good use. For those times, it was not at all easy: the Victorian patriarchal society was hostile towards the ladies who tried to overcome the intellectual, cultural and social boundaries imposed on them.

In  1835, a year before Ada married, Babbage had begun to plan the “Analytical Engine”, a computing system that used cards to multiply and divide numbers and perform a variety of data tasks. The mathematician was forced to seek support and investments on the project abroad, as the British government had tightened the purse strings and this is the reason why in September 1840 Babbage attended the Second Congress of Italian Scientists in Turin.

Among the people in the audience there was the engineer Luigi Menabrea, who offered to draw up a description of the analytical engine, hitherto non-existent. The article appeared two years later in French (Notions sur la machine analytique de Charles Babbage), in a Swiss magazine. Ada Lovelace, who knew French and every aspect of Babbage’s creature very well, proposed herself as a translator. No, actually she did something more.

She added to Menabrea’s writing some of her notes. The new text, almost three times longer than the original, was published in the British magazine “Taylor’s Scientific Memoir” in August 1843. It was signed simply A.A.L. (the initials of Augusta Ada Lovelace) to hide the author’s gender.

Ada Lovelace’s notes also contained in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine, the so called “Note G”.  In short, the first computer program in history. This is the reason why today Ada is considered the founder of the science of programming, at least in its theoretical aspects: for her, in fact, what mattered was the possibility of demonstrating that only one machine could really be applied for multiple purposes, thanks to the instructions that were provided.

Her intuitive mind was able to see even more: if, following instructions, those machines could manipulate numbers, then they would also be able to manipulate the symbols they represented, like musical notes or letters of the alphabet. In a way she was able imagine the behaviour of our modern computers.

Babbage never managed to build his analytical engine and Ada Lovelace could never test his program as she died of uterine cancer at the age of 36. Thus, for over 100 years after her death, no one remembered her, except as Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter. Her scientific contribution remained underestimated until the “father of computer science” Alan Turing rediscovered her notes in 1936. It is possible that the British mathematician was inspired by Ada’s ideas in theorizing artificial intelligence.

The greatest tribute to Lovelace’s work, however, came in the 1980s, when the US Department of Defence called ADA  the newly developed programming language DOD-1 (Department of Defense 1). Furthermore, since 2009, Ada Lovelace Day has been celebrated around the world on the second Tuesday in October, to acknowledge the achievements of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By the ways, Ada Lovelace was more alike to her father than her story tells, in fact, she did have the gift of poetry, but she applied it to science. She actually declared in a letter that she aspired to what she considered a “poetic science” and that “ imagination is also the faculty of combining“, that is, “of finding points in common between subjects who have no apparent connection”, but “pre-eminently it is the faculty of discovery. It is what penetrates into the invisible worlds around us, the worlds of Science ”. Those could be the words of any romantic poet; just like her father. When she died, she wanted to be buried next to him at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. Together at last.

34 thoughts on “Ada Lovelace

    • The only thing to say is wow! It is not so easy think that this kind of brilliant mind could belong to a woman of the patriarchal Victorian society. Ada was certainly a genius, but unfortunately, as you said, she was just a girl. Her story confirmed how impossible it was for a woman to express her intelligence outside the boundaries imposed by society, but it is also the confirmation that there can be no sexist stereotypes when it comes to genius. The poetry of her science is simply wonderful. The two worlds of art and science could not have found a better coincidence than that provided by Ada Lovelace. She embodies the thought of the perfect researcher: it is through the imagination that you can discover something. I just loved it!

  1. A different Lovelace than what most people might be familiar with. By far a more worthwhile to know about.

    Frustrating to think of all the brainpower humanity has missed out on because of religious and cultural biases.

    • What a naive I am, just for a second I believed that you were talking about Lovelace, the rake of Richardson’s Clarissa, but I soon found unlikely that you were referring to him. Then I asked my husband and,oh, he promptly led me to the right way. 😀

  2. A great note about (one of)the most intelligent and genius women in our history. We could really ask; if it wasn’t a “Man’s World”, we might be much more advanced in life. Thank you, my wise teacher. 🙏💖🤗

    • I cannot say if a “women’s world” would have been much better than a men’s world. We should go beyond gender and work for a future where skill, talent, genius, education prevail. That would be a much better world. 😁🙋🏼

      • I never meant woman’s world, we must just be the same and work together for a better world. And you are taking my wishes out 😊🙏😘😘❤👍

    • In the world, there have been many personalities who have had a historical and scientific influence as great as Ada Lovelace, and who, like this one, have not received the credit for their exploits, one of these that comes to mind, could be Galileo, the who in life was tried for his theories; theories that have been confirmed after a long time and have been handed down to this day.
      The genius of people is not always rewarded and understood on the spot, people like Miss Lovelace have a mind that rises and sees farther than the people of their time, so genes are not understood.

  3. The story and the great inventions of Ada Lovelace are very interesting for me also because they are things that I like too. In fact I would like to become a computer engineer, I like to invent, combine, and use the imagination. I think I will deepen what I read on the analytical engine. Already in the middle of the post it seemed to me to have found a certain similarity twith the amazing and well known “artificial intelligence”, and I was right! I was amazed to read that a theory about artificial intelligences had been made at that time! It is just unbelivable. It is very curious to think about the great evolutution of technology. I bet it took a long time to tabulate a polynomial function with the difference machine. Today there are simple mobile applications that are able to solve equations and inequalities in the blink of an eye.The fact that Ada still remained close to her father, with her poetic way of doing things, is very fascinating and perhaps I understood, thanks to the post, that the brightest minds are born precisely because they see things with different eyes, apply their knowledge and use the imagination to combine things together, and achieve even more amazing things. So I guess that having a little bit of poetic spirit in us allows us to create exceptional things. As Shopenhauer says “there is a genius in every madman and a little madness in every genius” and this made me understand the enormous potential of imagination and creativity. I find this post very inspiring, and of great value for the female population.

  4. I found this post very interesting. I was very impressed by her words when she compares poetry to mathematics. I believe that behind great inventions, in addition to having a lot of knowledge, there is always a creative part. I believe that, precisely for this reason, also mathematics, the programming of new technologies as in this case, are forms of art and this is fascinating. On the other hand, as we know she was Byron’s daughter so I am not surprised that she had such a creative mind but that her poem was able to come to life through programming.

  5. To be honest yes, me too to the question you asked us “man or woman as a computer programmer?” at first glance I answered with a man, like almost everyone. I was therefore very amazed by this woman and, reading the post I was struck by her great inventiveness. It is also interesting the part in which poetry is combined, certainly taken from her father, and her mathematical spirit, but on the other hand, something different could not come out of two such great minds.
    It must also be said that she was ‘lucky’ in knowing the right people who brought out her qualities the most, but without doubt even if they hadn’t helped her, her ability would have come out.

  6. This post really amazed me: it is unbelievable to imagine a person so ahead of her times conceiving something so revolutionary!
    She was a visionary, the perfect portrait of the hungry and foolish person described by Steve Jobs, in my opinion.
    Unfortunately, like many other geniuses and talented people such as Van Gogh, she had never got the credit she deserved and only after many years her value had been recognized. I guess this is a common destiny for geniuses, as well as artists: their superiority condems them to be underestimated and misunderstood for their entire life.

  7. Ada Lovelace was a genius! She not only was the first computer programmer in the world, but she also developed the main functions of today’s PC. We all know how complex PCs are and how many electronic elements there are made of, but already in the first half of the 1800s, machines similar to our PCs were created. Today computer programmer is a very complex job that requires a lot of logic skills and knowledge of the so-called “programming languages”. These languages allow us to give commands to machines from the easiest, such as mathematical operations, to the most complex such as autonomous driving systems. Programming languages allow us to do anything we want! The fact that Ada had already came up with this is certainly fascinating.

    Programming languages are not used only in computer science. Let’s think of the big issue that is upsetting the whole world today: Covid-19. The DNA or RNA consist in a sequence of nucleobases. That sequence is a real code itself! The nucleobases are in a specific sequence and they allow the protein synthesis. Everything is a programming language, just recognize it!

  8. Ada Lovelace’s life certainly makes us reflect. Fortunately it would seem that in her life, she was surrounded by men who allowed her to follow her passion, mathematics and science. But how many women of the same period could possibly have made a contribution as valuable as Ada’s? How many women have been hindered by Victorian patriarchal society? In the Victorian age, and unfortunately not only, many women, hampered by the limits imposed on them just to be women, have certainly had to ignore their passions and abilities. Who knows now where the progress of science would have come if women had been allowed to participate from the beginning.

  9. After hearing a story like this, you would instinctively say “what a woman!” Ada Lovelace wasn’t just a girl from the Victorian age, she was so much more. She is a pity that she was only recognized so late. Who knows if she had been recognized at her age how many girls she would have stimulated and pushed not to be just women looking for a title to give to their family. Surely, as in the modern age, women would have prevailed but they have been deprived of the opportunity and now it’s up to us to give them the right awards. We women think, work, act in the same way as men and we are no less. She was one of the girls who got involved, to show that even women can do what men do but in the Victorian age (prehistoric age) she was seen with a wrong eye.

  10. Ada Lovelace was a brave and determined woman. First of all, she grew up without a father; in addition, the Victorian society was “hostile” towards women who tried to overcome the cultural, intellectual and social boundaries imposed on them. Despite all these difficulties, Ada Lovelace cultivated her passion for mathematics, applying her studies in projects that at the time were considered “secondary”.
    Nowadays Ada Lovelace is considered the founder of the science of programming. In my opinion, her determination and courage in facing the obstacles of life have contributed to make the image of Ada Lovelace “immortal”.

  11. In my personal opinion, this is just an another example of why, we must study and learn from the history.
    Ada was lucky, she came from a “open mind” family, and mostly a rich family.
    If it wasn’t for this two factors, probably she wouldn’t have been able to study what she like, and if ti wasn’t for her mother social rank, she wouldn’t be able to meet Mary Sommerville, and so being introduced to William King, and so on.
    In our society women are more accepted rather than in the past, and so they have the right to study and almost the same right of everybody.
    Constitutionally speaking, women are and have the same of men, but practically this isn’t true, or better: it’s more true than in the past, but not completely the same.
    In the past women didn’t have almost any right, they were completely dependent on their husband, if they were married, or dependent on their father if they were not married.
    But still today we have step between men and women. Just to make an example 90% of unemployed person in Italy are women, and this is not just a random number picked from nowhere, and which doesn’t mean anything, This is the representation of the social difference in our society, women are still viewed as the housekeeper, they must clean,wash,take care of child, but that isn’t right.
    Another example is the paternity leave, in Italy is just 10 days….
    All of this just to say that women are luckier today than in the past, we have to keep fight to arrive step by step to the total equality of people not only based on their gender, but based on everything.

  12. I was very impressed with this post. Ada Lovelace was a genius! In her life she had to face many difficulties: the death of her father, the hostility of society at that time (…). Despite this, she proved the strong and courageous woman that she was and also thanks to the help of many scientists she was able to demonstrate her abilities. It’s nice to know that she is still remembered today as the founder of programming.
    Unfortunately, the lack of female consideration, which has always existed, didn’t allow her to immediately obtain the results she deserved. Fortunately, even if late, the world was able to understand thanks to her that women also have potential and that they should never be underestimated.

  13. Ada Lovelace cultivated her passion for mathematics by challenging the hostile Victorian society, towards women who tried to cross cultural, intellectual and social boundaries. So it is understood that she was a very determined woman in what she wanted to do and she did not let herself be beaten down by anyone, not even the “cock” of her father who had abandoned her. Today Ada lovelace is considered the founder of programming science. Her story about her struck me a lot and it also interested me a lot because I had already heard her name in various films, like the one about Alan Turing called The Imitation Game and now I have finally managed to connect everything.

  14. Ada Lovelace is definitely a woman to envy and admire. Her courage has offered us one of the most important treasures we have in the field of mathematics. Yes, because Ada didn’t want to be an ordinary woman of the Victorian age, devoted to her family and without a real purpose in life. She wanted to go beyond, beyond the stereotypes of a patriarchal society that prevented women from being professionally trained. I’m only sorry that her untimely death took away her awareness of having done something great for all of us. I have greatly admired her story, but above all, I have understood how much the society has made progress; indeed, how much women have fought for their rights, despite everything. We are so strong!

  15. what to say, Ada Lovelace is a woman to admire! Despite the difficulty for establish herself in the 19th century, she managed to create something great with her intelligence. In my opinion in other times she could have done even more than she did, without cultural limitations. She is the proof that with passion and dedication you can do everything.

  16. Ada’s story is absolutely interesting. Generally, I love reading biographies of historic characters, while I don’t appreciate childish and flattening tag to resume the life of great personalities. “The mother, the father. The aunt. And the grandfather, the great grandfather, the great – great grandfather” and so on. I understand the importance of this widespread modus operandi, but well, after all, it hurts me. It’s a product of a very individualistic Weltanschaung, based on the cult of personality and on the idolatry. I believe it is necessary tagging an event, a moment, a figure, a person, but tag is a synonym of stereotype. And to break out a stereotype even the pincers may be not enough. All is more complex than a simple label, which is the summary of a new historic sensibility and of a new electric feeling.
    Brontë sisters, Ada Lovelace, Artemisia Gentileschi and Frida Kahlo are – rightly – significant figures in feminist panorama. Nevertheless – I believe – a little bit of a healthy revisionism is very useful, when you study or when you move close to certain faultless “superstars” in order to avoid to enlarge the insurmountable gap between lightened people, endowed with geniality, and poor common people, victims of the fate and of the life. Between superheroes and super villains. An excessive enthusiasm lead us in a crossroads with two exits: 1) a general complex of inferiority linked with a huge pandemic Pygmalion effect (reasoned by self-persuasion) or 2) a world of egoistic megalomaniacs. Often, these two conditions live together in the paradoxical nature of the human genre. And maybe, my critical opinion towards this way of doing is only an idle, nonsense tale by an idealistic person with a very little pragmatic sense.

  17. Despite the male-dominated view of that time, still current in my opinion, the mathematical mind of a woman has managed to show how intelligence has no sex and how philosophy is the mother of all sciences, including mathematics. As Ada said, all sciences are linked. Ada Lovelace was able to lay the foundations for the creation of one of the most important piece of technology of all time. The strong personality of this woman and her determination had led her to emerge in a world of obstacles, going beyond the ideals of her society and family. Her ideals have guided her whole life, until death.

  18. The only thing to say is wow! It is not so easy think that this kind of brilliant mind could belong to a woman of the patriarchal Victorian society. Ada was certainly a genius, but unfortunately, as you said, she was just a girl. Her story confirmed how impossible it was for a woman to express her intelligence outside the boundaries imposed by society, but it is also the confirmation that there can be no sexist stereotypes when it comes to genius.The poetry of her science is simply wonderful. The two worlds of art and science could not have found a better coincidence than that provided by Ada Lovelace. She embodies the thought of the perfect researcher: it is through the imagination that you can discover something. I just loved it!

  19. I cannot help but feel respect towards Ada Lovelace. She was a scientist, a mathematician and a woman ahead of her times. Even though she never managed to get treated as a “first-rate eminence” by her peers she didn’t care and kept on working hard, becoming an admirable figure not only for proto-feminists, but for minorities all around the globe. She is the proof that with the the right resolve and commitment anyone can overcome cultural preconceptions and biases. What a woman!

  20. Ada Lovelace was a Victorian scientist who managed to eliminate, at least in her case, prejudices and gender differences. Ada is proof that intelligence and science are not influenced by a person’s gender but by genius and knowledge. She managed to overcome the social obstacles of the time but many other women remained repressed and were forced to stop their steps towards progress, then the question to ask is: if a single woman has managed to help scientific progress so much, how much could they have done women without having those limitations?
    Fortunately today we have evidence that science is free of gender influences thanks to numerous women who have contributed in an important way in the scientific field. Ada was also helped by the people around her but in my opinion it is not fair that a goal is only achievable for people who have help behind her. The Victorian era is fortunately far away from this point of view but despite everything there are still those who think that women can contribute less than men, despite Ada Lovelace and all the other magnificent women who have put their signature on scientific progress.

  21. It seems weird to think that a women has such a brilliant mind. Not due to herself being a women but due to the history context. In fact her life demonstrates how difficult it was for a women to standout and appear as a genius. Her story taught me lots and I also enjoyed it.

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