Ada Lovelace: The World's First Computer Programmer!

Ada Lovelace: The World's First Computer Programmer!

Ada Lovelace: The World's First Computer Programmer!

 The year was 1842, and this 'computer' had not even been built! It was merely a design for an 'Analytical Engine' by Charles Babbage that he'd worked out in 1831. Ada Lovelace had met Babbage in 1833 and had been very interested in his calculating machine. So when  Italian Luigi Menabrea's wrote about Babbage's work in French, Ada decided to translate the work into English.

She took 9 months to do the job, adding extensive notes that grew much longer than the book itself! In order to help readers understand what Babbage's machine could do, she actually wrote out a method to calculate Bernoulli's Numbers (a set of rational numbers that only mad mathematicians are interested in!). That 'method' is now acknowledged as the first computer program ever written! And it was done over a 100 years before the first computer was built!  Ada Lovelace was born in 1815, the daughter of Annabel and Lord Byron. Ada's mother loved maths!

And surrounded her daughter with math and science teachers! Ada had a sickly childhood, but her mother never let the tutoring stop. When Ada was only 8, she suffered from a series of headaches that would temporarily blind her. When she was 14, an attack of measles left her paralysed and bed-ridden for a year. But she never gave up on her studies. When she was 20, she married William King and had 3 children. And by 36, she died of cancer.

Yet this remarkable woman made an impact on technology, during a period in which few women entered the field.


Babbage planned his Analytical Engine as a purely mathematical machine. But Ada Lovelace was smart enough to realise that it could do a lot more. She wrote about how it could be used for other purposes, like composing music. Ada's review helps us compare Babbage's never-built computer to the first models that appeared a 100 years later in the 1940s.

She wrote, "Babbage believes that he can, by his engine, form the product of 2 numbers, each containing 20 figures, in 3 minutes." If the Analytical Engine had been built while its inventor was alive, it would have used the 'latest' technology of those days. It would have been powered by a steam engine! It would have occupied a space of 30 metres x 10 metres! Instead of a keyboard, information was 'inputed' through punched cards - a  technology Babbage adapted from the textile industry.  Semi-mechanical looms that wove Jacquard fabric used punched cards to feed the design into the loom. The out put was a primitive printer and included a bell!

By contrast, today's PCs can calculate the figures Ada mentions, within one billionth of a second. One of the first machines built in the US in the 1940s, the Harvard Mark 1 (funded by IBM) could do it in 6 seconds, but these machines were not programmable like Babbage's was.


The technology world today acknowledges the debt they owe this brilliant woman. When the US Department of Defence created a computer language in 1980, it was named Ada, after Ada Lovelace. The hologram on Microsoft's product authenticity sticker has this woman's image on it. In 1998, the British Computer Society began awarding a medal in Ada's name, to outstanding women in the Computer Sciences field. And in 2008, the society began an annual competition in the memory of this trailblazing woman.

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