Today we are going to tell you a story which, although totally real and factual, is so out of the common it rather sounds like pure fiction.
It is the story of the world’s first programmer, lady Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), the name by which she is habitually known, was the daughter (and the only legitimate child) of the famous English poet George Byron whose deviances, extravagances and excesses made some contemporary authors to see him as the first rock-star lifestyle promoter.
Lord Byron was disappointed to see he had a daughter instead of “the glorious boy” he had wished for.
Following his flamboyant nature’s calling (and perhaps also because of his considerable financial debts), just about 5 months after Ada’s birth, he separated from his wife, Ada’s mother Annabella Milbanke, baroness Byron and left England for good to fight in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire where he died 8 years later (because of a disease) without having seen his daughter again.
And so Byron was one of the greatest British poets and also a Greek national hero to our days but not much of a father.
As for Ada’s mother, she was as extreme as her husband but on the opposite side, being humorless and rigidly disciplined; she had mathematical training (highly unusual for women during those times) so possibly craving for the poetry she lacked.
But to Ada she wasn’t much of a mother either.
It seems she has only posed as a loving mom for social reasons but in fact she was so distant to her that in one of the letters she sent to her own mother she reffered to Ada as “it” instead of “she“!
So Ada grew up actually watched for only by strangers (paid tutors), her mother retaining a supervising role to detect and prevent any early sign of insanity, immorality or “je m’en fiche-ism” Ada might have inherited from her father.
And besides a loveless childhood Ada had to endure frequent physical sufferings too, experiencing various illnesses throughout her life, some of them really serious, sadly culminating with the uterin cancer which ended her life at just 36 years old, same age her father had at his own death.
Her latest wish was to be burried next to her father she never met in the Byron family vault so her coffin will touch her father’s own coffin; her request was fulfilled.
Perhaps it was the coldness of her worldly life that pushed her towards the abstract refuge of knowledge and sciences.
But most certainly her incredible entourage contributed too.
One of her private tutors in mathematics and science (to whom she became bonded by a longtime and strong friendship) was Mary Somerville, daughter of Vice-Admiral Sir William George Fairfax and the second woman scientist to receive recognition in the United Kingdom.
Somerville was acquainted to the most eminent scientific men of the time, her skills having attracted their attention and making her acquire general fame.
It was Somerville who introduced Ada to Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first computer we’ve told you about in our previous article.
Another private tutor Ada had was the famous mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan who formulated the De Morgan’s Laws, one of the modern applications of the laws being the simplification of logical expressions in computer programs and digital circuit designs.
Other friends of Ada’s in her adult years were Sir Charles Wheatstone (English scholar whose diverse notable inventions include the concertina, the Playfair cipher encryption technique, the Wheatstone bridge – an electrical circuit used to measure an unknown electrical resistance- and the first stereoscope), Sir David Brewster (Scottish scholar and inventor of the kaleidoscope and of the lenticular stereoscope), Andrew Crosse (one of the first to develop large voltaic piles), as well as Charles Dickens and Michael Faraday, names requiring no further presentation.
And to finish this quick story of Ada’s life, when she was 20 years old she married William King, 8-th Baron King which, 3 years after their marriage, was created Earl Lovelace, Ada thus becoming Countess of Lovelace, the name by which she is most often referred to (and which strangely resembles to the word “loveless”).
They had 3 children among which Anne Isabella (later to become Lady Blunt by marriage) remained famous until nowadays due to her passion for horses and for violins.
She and her husband took highly risky, adventurous journeys to Bedouins’ deserts almost unknown to Europeans and selected, bought and brought back to England the best Arabian pureblood horses and mares they’ve found.
This, along with enhancing nearly every horse breeding tradition, made their breeding farm in Sussex Crabbet Park become famous for the Arabian breed horses it produced and the consequent worldwide exports had a huge influence in modern horse breeding to such extent some even say that “today more than 90 per cent of Arabians are descended from the Blunts’ horses“.
As for the violins, one of the best preserved Stradivari violins in the world is named “Lady Blunt Stradivarius” because Lady Blunt was its first known owner.
But back to Ada Lovelace, in 1833 when she was 18 she met Charles Babbage, marking the begining of a literally lifetime friendship (on her deathbed she asked Babbage to be her executor).
Babbage introduced Ada to his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine works which quickly fascinated her while he, in turn, got impressed by her brilliant intelligence and her profound analytic powers.
In 1840, Babbage traveled to Italy (Turin) to make his single public presentation on the Analytical Engine.
Amongst the audience was a young italian mathematician named Federico Luigi Menabrea, later to become doctor in mathematics, military engineer, general in the Italian Army, diplomat and Prime Minister of the then Kingdom of Italy.
Menabrea’s interest for the Analytical Engine was so vivid that in 1842 he published a scientific work about it in the Swiss “Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève” originally in French because French was the key international language in Europe being the language of diplomacy from the 17th to mid-20th centuries but also because French mathematics and mathematicians were highly influent and respected.
Ada Lovelace translated the work from French to English in 1843 and added her own notes which actually surpassed the size and above all, the importance of Menabrea’s work.
Among the 7 notes she wrote (A to G, same as music notes, may we remark), note G is now famous as it contains a detailed description of an algorithm she has created for the not-built Analytical Engine to generate Bernoulli numbers.
Contemporary analyses and simulations revealed that her program would have run perfectly (except for 1 minor “bug” found) on a constructed machine.
Her algorithm is a program because it has a list of 6 input and output variables (3 of which are initialized at the start of the program), it contains 25 instructions (she also specified their source and destination registers), opcodes (instructions on the operation to be performed) and commentaries on the progress of the program, and it used 2 loops with a loop-counter stopping the loops when value “1” is reached on countdown.
In other words, it is a program because the algorithm was encoded for the purpose of being executed by an automatically controled machine.
But Ada’s note G contains an even more mind-blowing example of her visionary mind: the prediction that the calculating machine could use symbols instead of just numbers and -if given the right algorithms- they might for example compose music and create graphics.
And last but not least she made yet another fundamental statement, asserting that the Analytical Engine (and any computer for that matter, we add today) cannot originate anything by itself, it can only do whatever we are able to instruct it to do.
More than 100 years later Alan Turing made this principle famous and named it “Lady Lovelace’s Objection“.
Such formidable mental achievements are hard to even grasp.
Nearly 200 years ago it was Babbage who created a theoretical automatic computing machine but its universal potential was fully understood by Ada Lovelace, not by the inventor and they both “ran” their highly complex creations only virtually, in their heads.
Babbage named her “The Enchantress of Numbers” and the part of the terrace at Worthy Manor where Ada and Babbage were reputed to have walked while discussing mathematical principles was known as the “Philosopher’s Walk“.
In her honour, an important computer programming language commissioned by the US Department of Defence and first appearing in 1980 was named ADA and its military DoD Standard assigned number was MIL-STD-1815, the year of her birth.
The Ada programming language influenced other languages (C++, Java and Ruby among others) and nowadays it is cross-platform and still being used.
Starting with 2009, the Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated each October 15-th at the initiative of Suw Charman-Anderson in her efforts to gain recognition for women’s merits in technological fields.
To (incompletely) depict such extraordinary story we had to use the word “famous” 7 times in this article, despite the efforts of avoiding repetition.
So why not use it one last time, when advising you to try our famous GdPicture.NET SDK, PaperScan and ORPALIS PDF Reducer products?
Next week we are going to tell you about the first compiler.
See you then, folks!