Ada's Contributions to Computer Science

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Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace, became famous in her time because she was a daughter of Lord Byron who was a renowned romantic poet. However, this changed in the 20th

Century when her fame shifted from the family background to personal achievements. From childhood, Ada was passionate about science and mathematics, but later, her focus was too much on the latter because it was self-motivating for her and she also got assistance from Charles Babbage and Mary Somerville who were mathematical figures of the time. The term paper will discuss Ada Lovelace as a female mathematician whose achievements in the subject brought about a significant influence in the current understanding of some of the core mathematical concepts like algebra, astronomy, Bernoulli numbers, and computing. The paper will occasionally mention Babbage, who was a close acquaintance of Lovelace. The friendship between the two started while she was a teenager, and Babbage had developed an idea about the construction of a computer that would work on steam as the power source. Ada participated in the project by writing notes on how the steam-powered machine would function.

In today’s understanding of computing, Lovelace’s scripts would be the software upon which Babbage’s steam-powered computer would operate. Ada is remembered as one of the greatest pioneers of computer science, and that has led to the commemoration of the Ada Lovelace Day which is marked as the day to celebrate the mathematician and pioneer of computer science Ada Lovelace. At the beginning of the 19th

Century, very few professional scientists, but the participation of noble women on the subject was even condemned.

Ada Lovelace was born out of the marriage between Lord Byron (a romantic poet) and Anne Milbanke whose marriage lasted for only a month after the birth of Ada in 1815 (Diane, 2016). The father died in 1823, without seeing the daughter after the separation leaving Ada to be raised by the mother as a single parent. The mother had wished that her daughter would take the poetic skills of the father while mathematics and music that Ada took tutorials could just be used to counter poetic challenges. However, Lovelace's complicated legacy came to life in 1828 when she managed to design a machine that could fly and many people believe that mathematics concepts that were applied to develop the flying machine indeed gave her life the wings that she could later use to fly (Aiello, 2016).

Background of Ada Lovelace

Ironically, many people can readily recognize the name of Lord Byron, the famous poet of the 19th Century, but very little is known about the works of her daughter Augusta Ada Lovelace. Perhaps it is because what the letter did was not much known during her time, until civilization took deep root in the modern society, unlike poetry which has been celebrated for many decades and centuries (Martin, 2015). Ada was brought up by a single mother after a separation between her parents a few days after she was born. Even though the mother had wanted her to be a poet, Ada took mathematics and science tutorials while still at a tender age, and demonstrated interest and strong mental ability in both from as early as four years. Even though the father had many other illegitimate offspring, Ada happened to have been the only legitimate child of Lord Byron.

A few weeks after she had been born, the mother Annabella took Lovelace to visit her (mother) family with her and that marked the point of separation between the father and the mother, which saw Ada never return to the father. Later in April 1816, the mother signed an official document of divorce and never came to the country. Ada met Charles Babbage who was a mathematician and inventor in a party in London while at the age of 17 and developed a bond of friendship (Misa, 2016).  Two years later, while at the age of 19, Ada got married to Lord King who made her the Countess of Lovelace and together they had three kids. Babbage served as a mentor to Ada, and under his guidance, she undertook a course in advanced mathematics at the University of London. Her hard work and imaginative ability eluded Babbage.

Mathematician’s Area of Interest / Expertise

            Ada is best known for her work on the mechanical proposal on a general purpose computer by Charles Babbage. Her work was concerned with the development of the analytical engine of the system (Martin, 2015). Ada is remembered as the first computer programmer in history since she was the first to realize the full capability of a computing device. Up to early 1980's, many people had made attempts to develop a programming language, but all the efforts bore no significant results. In 1980, the government thought of forming a single program that would integrate all the styles into one that would be applied for many applications, and that is why Ada’s manual was adopted 165 years after she was born (Aiello, 2016).

            The article on Babbage's analytical engine was initially written on Italian, but after much persuasion, it was translated to English for a Swiss journal by Ada, and in the process, she added her ideas, including coding and looping concepts that the computer programmers apply today. In 1840, Ada translated an article about the analytical engine that had been written by an Italian mathematician to English, while in the process adding her ideas and explanations. The additions included the procedures for calculating number sequences that would have enabled Babbage's machine to function if it could have been completed. The series is nowadays called Bernoulli numbers. Despite these interests and achievements, the only challenge that Ada faced was that she never lived to see the implementation of her work in the real computing systems. Babbage too died before his device was completed.

Impact of Mathematician’s Work

The effects of Ada's work are a consequence of her contribution to the world of mathematics and computing. In the 1970's the United States' Defense Department developed programming that was named after Ada Lovelace (Aiello, 2016). Furthermore, the website www.findingada.com was also created to allow women create a database of women scientists that they admire. Besides, Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated to motivate women towards pursuing a career in science and mathematics. Research has revealed that girls become more interested in studying mathematics and science if they have a female role model that they look up to, and Ada serves that part (Martin, 2015). In recognition of Ada’s work, Lovelace medal was established in 1998 by the BCS to appreciate an outstanding performance in advanced computing.

Later Years

Despite her efforts towards making the world of computing a reality, by attempting to invent some programs, she never succeeded, and instead started to experience financial suffering (Martin, 2015). Ada developed cancer of the uterus and died in 1852 at the age of 36 years. Coincidentally, her father had also died at the same age-limit. Even though Ada had not known her father, she had had a lot of fascination with his work and had requested before then that she be buried close to him. She was buried next to her father in the Byron family vault, inside the St. Mary Magdalene Church in Hucknall, England.

Conclusion

            Much can be said about Ada Lovelace, courtesy of the family papers held at the Oxford Bodleian library. Ada had interests in music, mathematics, and calculating machines. Her work in mathematics is indeed a great inspiration to the contemporary world of science and computing. Even though she had family challenges and later financial and health problems, the secrets of success lied in the ability to integrate mathematical knowledge with an open imagination of the world around. She is a great inspiration to many, more so female scientists who have in the past assumed that science is meant for a specific gender.

References

Aiello, L. C. (2016). The multifaceted impact of Ada Lovelace in the digital age. Artificial Intelligence, 235, 58-62.

Cozza, M. (2011). Bridging gender gaps, networking in computer science. Gender, Technology, and Development, 15(2), 319-337.

Diane, S. (2016). Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer.

New York: Simon and Schuster.

Martin, U. ( 2015, December 29). Mathematical winters: Ada Lovelace, 200 years on.

Retrieved April 26, 2018, from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/mathematical-winters-ada-lovelace-200-years-on-52521

Misa, T. J. (2016, June 23). Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and the Bernoulli numbers. Ada's Legacy: Cultures of Computing from the Victorian to the Digital Age, pp. 11-31.

September 25, 2023
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