Born into the world when the industrial revolution was at its peak, Ada Lovelace grew up to be regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. As a 19th century mathematician and self-described analyst and metaphysician, Lovelace was to become an influential and pioneering woman in field of science and technology. Pretty cool, right? Let’s take a look at how she did it.

With the poet Lord Byron for a father and the mathematician Anne Isabella Byron for a mother, it was obvious that this little girl was never going to be average. In an alternative universe, maybe Ada could have been quite the poet-however Anne insisted Ada had tutoring in maths in an attempt to distance her from Lord Byron, who had been disappointed that Ada had not been born a boy and left his wife and child shortly after Ada’s birth (we at BBTG thoroughly disapprove of this. I like to think Lord Byron at the very least secretly followed her dazzling career from afar)

Whilst society in no way encouraged Ada or indeed any woman at that time to follow an academic path, Lovelace was quite the independent woman and went about planning and designing the methods and mechanisms that might one day allow her to fly an aircraft. Incredibly she organized all this at the age of 12.

At the end of her teenage years, Ada was introduced to the British mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage described to her how he was working on a machine he termed the “difference engine”. Through various handles, cogs and other moving parts the machine could mimic mathematical formulations and provide a solution using a single mechanism. The workings and machinery were nothing new, as was expected in the industrial revolution. What was impressive though, was how the engine could imitate the workings of the human brain in terms of mathematical calculations.

Lovelace was then asked to write up notes on a lecture that Babbage would make, explaining the workings of a new engine: the “analytical engine”, which Lovelace also had a large input. This new machine ran on similar mechanisms to the difference engine but used detailed patterns and sequences punched onto operation cards fed into the engine to carry out calculations. This was the beginning of what we now call programming and laid the foundations of a now widely used computer programming language: Ada. The analytical engine could therefore carry out a wider range of calculations than the earlier difference engine.

Not only did Ada have a deep understanding of the complexity of the notes that she was translating, she also extended and added to them – her extension was even longer than the original notes provided by Babbage! (Somewhere Lord Byron is crying with pride) This showed that she appreciated not only what the engine could do now, but also had the foresight to envisage what impact it might have in the future. She predicted that this mechanism could be used for so much more than just manipulating numbers for quantitative purposes, and that the engine could allow for the generation of music, speech and images.
The technology designed back in the 19th century by Ada Lovelace and her colleagues underpins many of the devices, gizmos and gadgets that we use today.

That’s why, every 15th of October, Ada Lovelace day is celebrated; a day which not only reminds us of her contributions, but the achievements of so many women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Take that, Lord Byron.

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