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The first computer algorithm comes by the name of Ada

Ada Lovelace
Wikimedia Commons

Today is Ada Lovelace’s Day, a special celebration to visualize Ada’s contributions and to recognize women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Ada Lovelace made her contribution  in a moment when mathematics was considered only a man’s subject, but despite that, she created the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine. To commemorate her date, let’s deepen into this incredible figure’s life:

Science and poetry influences

Ada Lovelace was Lord Byron’s daughter, one of Britain’s  greatest poets, and Anne Isabella Milbanke divorced only a few weeks after Ada’s birth. Ada grew up close to her mother, who introduced her in maths and science through private tutors in order to avoid her following Lord Byron’s romantic ideals. Right from the beginning, Ada Lovelace showed a great talent for mathematics and a notorious intelligence.  Despite Lady Byron’s efforts to keep Ada away from poetry, she was always inclined to  integrating science and poetry in her work. Her understanding of mathematics was highly imaginative and she had the habit of describing this discipline through metaphors.  Because of this,  she was known as “The Enchantress of Numbers”. As to her father,  she never saw him again after he and her mother signed the divorce. Still, he dedicated her some of his verses.

Essential contributions

Ada Lovelace was born in London 1815, under the influences of the Victorian Society, certainly not an age in which women could undertake a scientific career. Most women would be schooled in arts and social grades. Instead, Ada was tutored in maths and science despite society’s prejudices, all inspired by the character of a visionary mother.

During her teens, she worked with the notorious mathematician and astronomer Mary Sommerville and they translated Laplace’s work together. It was in that period when she also met Charles Babbage, who is considered as the father of the computer, and thus became her mentor. In that age, Babbage wanted to create the analytical engine, a machine with which people could process mathematical calculations. Ada translated to English the sole document related to that mechanism including some personal annotations in which she showed the first algorithm specifically tailored for implementation on a computer. Although the analytic engine was never completed and Ada’s program was never tested, with this contribution, Ada Lovelace became the  world’s first computer programmer, although this recognition would not arrive until many years later.

Ada’s legacy

Ada was the first person to imagine the amount of possibilities that modern computers held. She anticipated programming processes, with a firm belief that that computers would be able to do whatever we wanted them to do, if we knew how to correctly implement these orders within them. Her predictions were accurate reflections of what later became and turning her into a true visionary.

Her work and contributions did not receive any recognition until one century after her death. Her work had been highly advanced to the age she had lived in. Her work was not valued or understood until one century later, when technology progressed and her findings were found astonishingly correct.

During the 1970’s, the United States Department of Defence created a computer language which they named Ada in honour to Lovelace’s contributions within the computing community. Nowadays, this language is still used for a high number of applications, especially in aviation systems.

Nuria Martínez

The author Nuria Martínez