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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throwback Fact: Ada Lovelace and the Analytical Engine

Portrait of Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace was born in London, England in 1815 to a poet father and math-loving mother. After her father left the family when she was just four, Ada’s mother raised her on a strict regiment of science, logic, and mathematics. Due to this she developed an early love for machines and technology, a passion that would lead her down a path of scientific discovery. 

Relationship with Charles Babbage:
In 1833, at around seventeen, Lovelace was introduced to Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor who was famous for his work with calculating machines. Babbage became a mentor to Lovelace who was captivated by his innovative work. Soon, Babbage would ask Lovelace to work with him on his newest invention called the Analytical Engine, which was meant to perform mathematical calculations just like a computer.

Lovelace’s Work:
Babbage asked Lovelace to translate an article on the analytical machine written by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea. While translating the text from French to English, she also added her own thoughts and ideas on the machine. She theorized that the machine could repeat a series of instruction, a process known as “looping” that is still used today by computer programmers. She also created codes so that the device could handle numbers, letters, and symbols. Due to these findings and theories, Lovelace is often considered the first computer programmer. 

Lovelace’s Legacy:
Ada Lovelace envisioned a world where machines would be an integral part of human imagination. At the time, these ideas where dismissed by the scientific community because they were too difficult to comprehend. Just like many other visionaries of her era, only time and knowledge could lead to the acceptance of her work. In the 1970’s, engineers at the United States Department of Defense, inspired by her work on the calculation of Bernoulli numbers, named a computer programing language Ada in her honor. Today, Lovelace also serves as an inspiration to many women in the STEM fields, who see her as a visionary who lived before her time. They celebrate Ada Lovelace Day on the second Tuesday of October in her honor. 

Sources: 1, 2

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