Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace) (1815-1852) was an English mathematician, writer, and the first computer programmer. She was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke (later Baroness Wentworth). Shortly after she was born, her father divorced her mother and left England, and died eight years later. Despite spending much of her childhood ill, her talents in mathematics and logic were encouraged by her mother. When she was 12, she researched birds, wings, and flight, wrote the book, Flyology to illustrate her findings, and built her own set of wings; she knew that to power them, she would have to learn about steam and machinery.  Her tutor, Mary Somerville,  introduced her to Charles Babbage, another mathematician, and formed a long working friendship with him. She contributed to his proposed mechanical general purpose computer, the Analytic Engine, which he never built. She recognized that the Analytic Engine had applications further than calculation, and she designed the first algorithm for this machine. She approached technology as a collaborative tool, and considered how individuals and society can and could relate to it. She began preparations for creating a model of the brain to investigate how it gives rise to thoughts and feelings, likely in part as an investigation of her own sanity or lack thereof: her mother had been obsessed with what she perceived to be insanity in her father, and therefore, Ada’s “potential madness”. She never completed this project, but did consult electrical engineer Andrew Crosse about it. Her interests in mathematics blended with what she called “poetical science” led her to being a self-described “Analyst and Metaphysician”. She married William King in 1835, who introduced her to several scientists and also Charles Dickens. She died at the age of 36 of uterine cancer, and was buried next to her father. The computer language, Ada, created on behalf of the United States Department of Defense, was named after her. (Portrait painted by Margaret Sarah Carpenter, 1835).