The Enchantress of Numbers: Ada Lovelace

I am sure by now you all know I am not the most techy person in the world, but I still find this an interesting area, particularly if it comes wrapped in a majestic, incredible woman with the smarts of a genius. Yes, I am of course talking of the only legitimate child of Lord Byron: Ada Lovelace. I was seriously blown away by her knowledge and contribution to modern-day science, and I think we should be talking more about her! So here we go.

Ada was born in 1815 as the only child fruit of the relationship between Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke; as we know he was a serial polygamous lover and the vast majority of his children were born out-of-wedlock from his lovers and mistresses. This relationship in fact, is very short lived and the couple separate just a few weeks after the birth of their daughter. Byron never got to meet the woman his child became, as he died away in Greece when Ada was only 8 years old. They never really met, so Ada really grew up away from her father’s influence. This probably worked out well for Miss Milbanke as she was seriously concerned her daughter would turn up to be like her father: she thought Ada would inherit some sort of poetic madness just like her stranged husband and that would ruin her…(Genetics, huh?). But interestingly enough, little Ada showed from a very early age an interest in machines. It is because of this reason and her utter bitterness towards Lord Byron that Annabella decided to promote her daughter’s education in the field of science, particularly mathematics. Ada grew under the tutelage of Mary Sommerville, the famous astronomer who  expanded the girls curiosity into rational thinking and the complexity that was the universe. And it is thanks to her tutor that Ada gets to meet the most influential person in her life: her mentor Charles Babbage. Although becoming a reason for gossip at the time, the relationship between then an elderly Babbage and a very young Ada was strictly intellectual. However, it could be argued that they were, indeed, very fond of each others company, but not in the way people thought of it. If one considers her family lineage, and the fact people were very aware this was, in fact, Lord Byron’s daughter, in addition to Ada’s apparent great beauty, perhaps one could understand the nature of said rumours…Nevertheless, you could say that the Lovelace – Babbage companionship was really a family replacement one. Babbage had lost his children; Ada never knew her father, so they found in each other that perfect person to compliment their hearts as well as their minds.

And it is then when Ada’s brilliance really flourishes. Babbage gave her the task to translate the work of Luigi Menabrea on the Analytical Engine of Babbage. But she went so much further than just doing a translation of the work: in addition Ada introduced notes and sketches on how to use this machine. Thus, she created in many ways a new piece of work, 3 times longer than the original. Finished in 1843, Ada’s work was presented as Notes by the Translator…Sketches of the Analytical Engine. This piece also provides an insight into what Ada understood to be the true potential of such piece of equipment. In here she develops the theory that Babbage’s machine could find application beyond numerical calculations. She was convinced that this engine could be used to perform complex tasks by manipulating symbols such as producing basic answers to questions. In essence, a century early, Ada Lovelace conceived in her mind that computing was indeed possible and that any piece of content had the potential to be digitised.  It was Miss Lovelace work that truly inspires Alan Turing’s work in the mid 20th century.

However, this brilliant young mind suffers the fate of such many romantics, yet not in the way her mother thought. Ada Lovelace died at the age of 36, just like her father, but due to a severe medical condition: uterine cancer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s