Ada Lovelace, Enchantress of Numbers: The First Programmer
"I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand..." -Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Her mother, not wanting her to be like her father, had Lovelace learn math and science, which was very unusual at the time. From very early on, she displayed talent with numbers.
Lovelace was a teenager when she met Charles Babbage. Babbage had invented the Difference Engine, a mechanical computer that could produce mathematical tables. However, he was never able to build it due to setbacks and trouble with funding. He had moved on to the Analytical Engine in 1834. The Analytical Engine was meant to be the first general purpose computer. It also lacked funding and was never built. The Difference Engine was finally constructed in 2002 and it worked.
Babbage was very impressed by Lovelace, and the two discussed math and computing for years as Babbage developed the Analytical Engine. In 1842, Babbage gave a lecture on the engine and it was transcribed into French by a mathematician. Lovelace was then commissioned to translate this into English. She added her own notes to the lecture and ended up making it three times as long as the original.
These notes made it clear that Lovelace understood the engine as well as Babbage did, and that she understood how to make it do things. She suggested data input that would program the machine to calculate a special kind of number. This is considered the first program; the basis for every single future program.
Lovelace also understood that numbers could represent more than just quantities, and that a machine that manipulated numbers could be used to manipulate any data represented by numbers. She predicted that machines like the engine could be used to compose music, produce graphics, and be a tool for science.
Lovelace was a visionary capable of great things. She is considered the world’s first programmer. As a woman, especially a woman in the 1840s, this is an amazing feat and Lovelace is a role model to all women pursuing computer science.
Image: The Difference Engine