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Ada Lovelace: Math-Computer Science Pioneer & World’s First Computer Programmer

Written by Deepansha Singh

More than 200 years ago, in London, Ada Lovelace - the world’s first computer programmer and math-computer science pioneer - was born.


Today, everywhere around the world, on “Ada Lovelace Day,” (the second Tuesday of October), people celebrate women in STEM’s achievements, and also, in particular Ada’s inspiring legacy and the impact she had on the world!


Background


Ada was born in London more than 200 years ago. Her father, Lord Bryon, was a distinguished poet, but he passed away when she was very young and she didn’t get a chance to see him. Lovelace’s mother was highly knowledgeable in the mathematics-science domain and thus, insisted that Ada should receive a good education, especially in this field.


At that time, it wasn’t too common to see girls receiving such a good education in the math-science area and there weren’t any positions in universities for girls to pursue higher-level studies in this domain.


Thus, Ada was taught these higher-level complex math-science concepts from private tutors. Through the help of her mother’s guidance and these private tutors, Lovelace built a strong math-science foundation at a young age.


Ada Lovelace’s Math-Computing Contributions


Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, wrote a machine algorithm to calculate Bernoulli numbers on Charles Babbage’s (mathematics professor) difference engine (an early calculation-based machine).


The goal of this machine was to perform complex calculations that many people often made mistakes when doing by hand. Because Ada Lovelace had a strong mathematics background, Charles Babbage decided to invite her to help him with creating programs that could run on this machine and perform some complex calculations.


When she was first introduced to Babbage’s machine at about 17 years old, she was unsure how she could apply her mathematics knowledge to create such a program.


However, over the years, she gained more experience and cultivated more mathematics knowledge which would help her.


Ada, and her mother, would visit different factories where they would observe and learn how different machines function. In particular, Ada learned about “The Jacquard Loom,” which was a machine at one of these factories that utilized a system called “punch cards” to determine where to put the loom thread by issuing instructions to the machine. Today, these instructions are called “machine code,” which is essentially computer language that the computer can easily understand and respond to, in return.


Along with observing how machines function at various factories, during this time, Lovelace continued to gain more math knowledge by discussing complex mathematics problems with a renowned female mathematician named Mary Somerville.


During this time when Ada was diving deeper into higher-level mathematics, Babbage had further developed his machine and had now termed it as “the analytical engine,” since it could now compute some more intricate calculations.


Soon, Ada saw the work that Babbage had produced in a paper. After reading the paper and making her own contributions, she worked on one of the most difficult calculations - computing Bernouilli numbers. While working with Babbage on this problem, she then went onto publish the world’s first computer algorithm to determine Bernoulli numbers.


Through this breakthrough, she was able to demonstrate that computers can not only be used as a calculator to perform various calculations but can also be used so that algorithms can be built on top to manipulate the input data, where the input can always be converted to numbers no matter what original form it is in.


How “Ada Lovelace Day” Is Celebrated Today


Today, on every second Tuesday of October, “Ada Lovelace Day” is celebrated all around the world in many different ways!


There are many different events like the ALD (“Ada Lovelace Day”) live event along with other ongoing conferences that take place during this time to celebrate. Particularly, in the ALD Live, renown women in STEM and their accomplishments in this field are presented, with the goal of presenting role models that will inspire younger girls and the next generation to pursue STEM-related fields!


Ada Lovelace has been inspiring countless girls to pursue the math-computer science area and she is a huge role model and inspiration for many!


References:

  1. Famous Scientists: Ada Lovelace

  2. Famous Mathematicians: Ada Lovelace

  3. Ada Lovelace Day

  4. Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace