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Ada Lovelace

(1815—1852) mathematician and computer pioneer


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(1815–1852) British computer pioneer

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Annabella Millbanke and the poet Lord Byron. Ada's mother left her husband after a month of marriage and Ada never saw her father. Born in London, she was educated privately, studying mathematics and astronomy in addition to the more traditional topics. She seems to have developed an early ambition to be a famous scientist. Her correspondence, however, with Mary Somerville and Augustus De Morgan, two of her informal teachers, show that her formal skills were very limited. De Morgan saw her as a talented beginner who could have become an original mathematician if given the chance to receive a rigorous formal Cambridge-style training. Such routes were not open to young Victorian women.

In 1834 she heard Charles Babbage lecture on his famous ‘difference engine’. She offered Babbage her support and they became good friends. In 1842 she translated from French an account of Babbage's analytical engine by the Italian engineer, L. F. Manabrea. At Babbage's suggestion she added some explanatory notes. They constitute one of the primary sources of his work.

Other plans, such as a Calculus of the Nervous System, failed to mature – the obstacles in her way were simply too great. As a woman, for example, she was denied access to the Royal Society Library. Nor did her private life flourish. Her marriage in 1835 to Lord King, created the Earl of Lovelace in 1838, seemed merely to replace the guardianship of her mother with that of her husband. She began an affair in the 1840s with John Crosse, a gentleman who seemed to be as interested in her money as herself. She also took in later life to heavy gambling on horses and by Derby day 1851 she had run up losses of over £3000. Worse was to come, however, as cancer of the uterus had been diagnosed. She was buried beside her father's remains at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, having died, like him, at the age of 36. Ada Lovelace has been commemorated in the name of the high-level computer language ada.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Philosophy.


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