Finding Ada. Who’s the woman who inspires two centuries after her death?

In the UK October is devoted to women who are working in the science and technology field because every second Tuesday of the month is established as the Ada Lovelace Day. In London it is celebrated with a big event, in which speeches are held by prominent women in fields like IT, mathematics and mechanics. They aim at inspiring even more women to get involved with these professions where the presence of men is significantly higher. The day took its name from Ada Lovelace, the woman who created the first computer program in mid-19th century.

Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace was Lord Byron’s only legal child from his marriage with Anne Isabella Milbanke. However, father and daughter never met each other, because Lord Byron abandoned them in order to support the Greek revolutionists. This fact played a determining role in her upbringing. Her mother made sure that Ada will spend a lot of time studying physics and mathematics, in order to ensure that growing up wouldn’t show interest for poetry – something that, in her point of view – would make her unstable and irresponsible like Lord Byron.

At the age of 27 she came in contact with Charles Babbage, renowned professor of the University of Cambridge that was working on the Analytical Engine and had the ambition to create a calculating machine able to perform complex arithmetic operations. This acquaintance was about to become decisive not only for her but for the PC technology, too. Ada, being fascinated by Babbage’s work, wrote an article in English about his invention that was impressive in terms of its clarity and details. Her professor, then, gave her the designs and encouraged her to note down her propositions for the development of the Analytical Engine. Her notes formed a design that was three times bigger than the original. The young daughter of Lord Byron hasn’t just managed to perform difficult operations. She became the first programmer in the world, as she created an algorithm that could digitalize images, sounds and letters of the alphabet!

Unfortunately, the Analytical Engine remained a dream because Ada Lovelace died of cancer in the early age of 37, while her mentor started facing financial problems. However, London Science Museum trialed her program and found out it was functional despite the few errors it contained. Therefore, her contribution was great as she was the first person who proved that computers have infinitely more capabilities than the addition and subtraction of numbers, leading the way to the creation of software, as we know it today.

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Translated by Maria Piskiouli

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