Ada Lovelace was a STEM Pioneer, and ahead of her time. She created the first computer program and was a visionary in analytics. Today we honor her legacy as a role model and a hero for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Ada Lovelace was a visionary who saw beyond the limitations of her time and society.
She overcame adversity and expectations as a woman in a male-dominated world.
Lovelace combined her artistic imagination with her scientific rigor to create new possibilities for human knowledge and creativity.
Moreover, she was the first computer programmer and a pioneer of STEM for women.
Born Ada Gordon in 1815 in London, she was the only child of the famous poet Lord Byron and his wife Lady Byron (aka Annabella Milbanke).
Her parents separated soon after her birth, and Ada’s father died when she was eight years old.
Ada’s mother wanted to prevent her from developing her father’s perceived madness and instability. Thus, she encouraged Ada to study mathematics, logic, and science from a young age.
Ada had a natural talent and curiosity for these subjects, and she also developed a passion for music, languages, and literature.
Accordingly, she had a fascination with machines and studied diagrams of the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution at the time.
The Analytical Engine
Ada’s education and social connections brought her into contact with some of the most brilliant minds of the era. She met Charles Babbage, Michael Faraday, Charles Dickens, and Mary Somerville, for example.
She was especially fascinated by Babbage’s Difference Engine, a mechanical calculator.
She visited Babbage’s workshop several times and got even more intrigued by his plans to build the Analytical Engine.
Only theoretical, the machine would be able to perform any kind of computation given a set of instructions.
It was never built, but the design had all the essential elements of a modern computer.
In 1842, Babbage asked Ada to translate a paper by Luigi Menabrea about The Analytical Engine.
In addition to translating the paper, she added her own notes, which were three times longer than the original article.
The notes explained the principles and functions of the machine, and proposed several improvements and modifications.
They also predicted potential uses of the machine, including the manipulation of symbols and the creation of music.
Most importantly, she described an algorithm for calculating Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine.
Today, Ada’s algorithm is widely considered to be the first computer program ever written.
Babbage spoke highly of Lovelace’s mathematical powers, and of her peculiar capability to absorb and describe complex ideas.
He famously called her “The Enchantress of Numbers”.
Overcoming Societal Misogyny
Of course in those days, women were not expected to write about such topics..
Consequently, Ada published “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator” under the initials A.A.L. Despite this, her contemporaries largely ignored and dismissed her work.
Ada Lovelace died of cancer at 36, only a few short years after the publication.
The Analytical Engine remained a vision for over a century.
Modern scholars and programmers finally acknowledged Ada’s contributions to computer science in the 20th Century.
Lovelace’s notes inspired Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.
Ada’s thwarted potential, and her vision for technology, have made her a powerful symbol for modern women in technology.
Today, we honor Ada Lovelace as a role model and a hero for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
We celebrate her achievements, name programming languages, awards, scholarships and organizations after her.
“I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature.” – Ada Lovelace