June 5, 1833: Ms. Software, Meet Mr. Hardware
Ada Byron, daughter of Lord Byron, devised a way to calculate Bernoulli numbers using Charles Babbage's analytical engine. It's widely considered the first computer program.
Image: Ada Picture Gallery
1833: Ada Byron meets Charles Babbage. He designed an early computer, and she would write the first computer program.
Ada's father was the poet Lord Byron, but her parents separated when she was a month old. Her famous -- and poetically wild -- father went to Greece, and she never knew him.
Ada was 15 when she met the Cambridge mathematics professor Babbage 175 years ago today. Babbage had already received funding from Parliament to build a "difference engine" that could do mathematical calculations. While that project was still unfinished, he conceived in 1834 a new and broader idea: an "analytical engine" that "could not only foresee but could act on that foresight."
In 1835, Ada married William King, who inherited the title Earl of Lovelace in 1838, making her Countess of Lovelace. They had three children, but Ada's family and social responsibilities did not keep her from continuing her study of advanced mathematics.
Babbage, meanwhile, gave a seminar on the analytic engine in Turin, Italy, in 1841. Countess Ada translated an article about the presentation and showed it to Babbage. He was apparently better at conceiving things than explaining them (unheard of in a mathematician, eh?) and suggested that Ada expand the article with her own notes.
When published in 1843, those notes ran three times as long as the original article. Ada predicted that a computing machine could compose music, draw graphics and find application, so to speak, in business and science.
She also wrote a plan for the analytical engine to calculate Bernoulli numbers. It's now considered the first computer program. The countess originated the idea of a loop in a program, which she likened to a "snake biting its tail."
Ada was also a friend to novelist Charles Dickens, scientist Michael Faraday, inventor Charles Wheatstone and David Brewster, creator of the kaleidoscope. She was an opium addict who had numerous affairs and gambled away a lot of her family fortune. She died of cancer in 1852, two weeks shy of her 37th birthday.
The Countess of Lovelace has attained recent fame through Betty Toole's 1992 edition of her correspondence, Ada, The Enchantress of Numbers and Lynn Hershman-Leeson's 1997 film Conceiving Ada, starring Tilda Swinton.
The U.S. Department of Defense named a computer language "Ada" in her honor.