From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852), born Augusta Ada Byron, is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer. Ada was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron.
Ada was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife, Anne Isabella Milbanke. She was named after Byron's half-sister, Augusta Leigh, whose child he was rumored to have fathered. It was Augusta who encouraged Byron to marry to avoid scandal, and he reluctantly chose Annabella. Ada was born on December 10th, 1815, London, England. On January 16, 1816, Annabella left Byron, taking 1-month old Ada with her. On April 21, Byron signed the Deed of Separation and left England for good a few days later. He was never allowed to see either again.
Ada never met her younger half-sister, Allegra Byron, daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont, who died at the age of five in 1822. Ada did have some contact with Elizabeth Medora Leigh, the daughter of Byron's half-sister Augusta Leigh. Ada and Medora were told by Ada's mother that Byron was Medora's father.
Ada lived with her mother, as is apparent in her father's correspondence concerning her. Lady Byron was also highly interested in mathematics (Lord Byron once called her "the princess of parallelograms"), which dominated her life, even after marriage. Her obsession with rooting out any of the insanity of which she accused Lord Byron was one of the reasons why Annabella taught Ada mathematics at an early age. Ada was privately home schooled in mathematics and science by William Frend, William King and Mary Somerville. One of her later tutors was Augustus De Morgan. An active member of London society, she was a member of the Bluestockings in her youth.
In 1835 she married William King, 8th Baron King, later 1st Earl of Lovelace. They had three children; Byron born 12 May 1836, Annabella (Lady Anne Blunt) born 22 September 1837 and Ralph Gordon born 2 July 1839. The family lived at Ockham Park, at Ockham, Surrey. Her full name and title for most of her married life was The Right Honourable Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace. She is widely known in modern times simply as Ada Lovelace, or by her maiden name, Ada Byron.
She knew and was taught by Mary Somerville, noted researcher and scientific author of the 19th century, who introduced her in turn to Charles Babbage on June 5, 1833. Other acquaintances were Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Charles Dickens and Michael Faraday.
During a nine-month period in 1842-1843, Ada translated Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea's memoir on Babbage's newest proposed machine, the Analytical Engine. With the article, she appended a set of notes which specified in complete detail a method for calculating Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, recognized by historians as the world's first computer program. Biographers debate the extent of her original contributions, with some holding that the programs were written by Babbage himself. Babbage wrote the following on the subject, in his Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1846)<ref> (from an excerpt found in Perspectives on the Computer Revolution (1970), edited by Zenon Pylyshyn)</ref>:
I then suggested that she add some notes to Menabrea's memoir, an idea which was immediately adopted. We discussed together the various illustrations that might be introduced: I suggested several but the selection was entirely her own. So also was the algebraic working out of the different problems, except, indeed, that relating to the numbers of Bernoulli, which I had offered to do to save Lady Lovelace the trouble. This she sent back to me for an amendment, having detected a grave mistake which I had made in the process.
Lovelace's prose also acknowledged some possibilities of the machine which Babbage never published, such as speculating that "the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent."
Ada Lovelace was bled to death at the age of 36 by her physicians, who were trying to treat her uterine cancer. She perished at the same age as her father and from the same cause: medicinal bloodletting. She left two sons and a daughter, Lady Anne Blunt, famous in her own right as a traveler in the Middle East and a breeder of Arabian horses, co-founder of the Crabbet Arabian Stud.
Over one hundred years after her death, in 1953, Ada Lovelace's notes on Babbage's Analytical Engine were republished after being forgotten. The engine now has been recognized as an early model for a computer and Ada Lovelace's notes as a description of a computer and software.
References within computer science
- The computer language Ada, created by the U.S. Defense Department, was named after Lovelace. The reference manual for the language was approved on December 10, 1980, Ada's birthday, and the Department of Defense Military Standard for the language, "MIL-STD-1815" was given the number of the year of her birth.
- Her image can be seen on the Microsoft product authenticity hologram stickers.
- The British Computer Society annually awards a medal in her name.
Popular cultural references
- On episode #203 ("Hugs and Witches") of the math-mystery cartoon Cyberchase, she appears as the animated character Lady Ada Lovelace, voiced by Saturday Night Live comedian Jane Curtin.
- She is one of the main characters in the alternate history "Steampunk" novel The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, which posits a world in which Babbage's machines were mass produced and the computer age started a century early.
- Lord Byron's Novel by John Crowley is a pastiche of a novel supposedly by Byron (in real life he did begin writing one, but is not known to have completed it), discovered after his death by his daughter, edited and with commentary by her.
- She is a main character in the 1997 film Conceiving Ada.
- In the series "Midnighters" by Scott Westerfeld, one of the main characters, Dess, idolizes Ada Lovelace. This becomes mildly significant in the second book of the series.
- A superintelligent computer in the online comic strip Narbonic is named for her.
- In the video game Z.O.E., ADA is the name of the battle A.I. for the giant robot Jehuty.