Who invented the first computer? I’ll give you a hint: she’s considered the mother of computer programming.
Many people would say computers were invented in the 1960s and 1970s by geniuses like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs. They sure as hell changed technology forever.
Others would say that the computer was invented even earlier, as early as the 1940s. Now that Alan Turing’s remarkable accomplishments have been recognized, it’s widely accepted that he was a pioneer in computer technology.
A woman named Ada Lovelace envisioned a modern digital computer using industrial revolution technology over 100 years ahead of her time.
In order to tell you how she did it, I have to explain her background – so here’s the skinny.
Born December 10, 1815, Augusta Ada Byron was famous the minute she was born. She was the only legitimate child of the infamous English poet, Lord Byron, and Anne Isabella Milbanke, making her a child star.
Lord Byron was the Charlie Sheen of the 19th century. He was always making the headlines for his extravagant lifestyle and spending far beyond his means. He was notorious for having had multiple affairs, the most scanalous one was with his step-sister.
One year after Ada’s birth, her mother had enough. Anne divorced Lord Byron who made no attempt to stop her, despite his legal parental right to custody. Ada never saw her father again; he died when she was 8.
Due to the total jack-assery of her ex husband, Anne set out on an equally jack-assery mission to make sure her daughter never developed the imaginative and disorderly vices of her father. Starting at the age of 4, Ada began a rigorous home schooled education. Her daily schedule included math, science, music, and french. If that sounds boring, that was the point. Anne’s goal was to educate the imagination of of Ada. Anne’s other goal was to be as mean as possible to baby Ada to discourage disobedience. For example, Ada would be locked in a closet until she corrected her behavior. It’s too bad Child Protective Services was not yet a thing.
Despite her soul-sucking childhood education, Ada retained her spirit as an adolescent and learned to incorporate imagination and poetry, her father’s exact vices, into science and mathematics. She called it “poetical science”.
At 17 years old, Ada’s life changed when her tutor took her to a lavish party and introduced her to Charles Babbage, a mathematician, inventor, and mechanical engineer. That night, he displayed his newest invention, the Difference Engine, in front of a small crowd. Ada saw the machine and became fascinated with its potential. Shortly after that night, Babbage became Ada’s mentor and they began to exchanged adorably geeky letters to each other.
For the next 10 years, they snail mailed and visited each other as often as they could. Its important to know that this was a plutonic relationship. In these 10 years, Ada became a wife, a countess, a mother of three, and a devoute student of mathematics. Often she would be ridiculed for neglecting her social duties as Countess but little did they know she was about to make history.
In 1842, Babbage wrote to Ada asking her to translate a set of notes by the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s article on Babbage’s new invention, the Analytical Engine. As Ada translated, she took meticulous notes on Menabrea’s article. The notes ended up being 3 times as long as the original article! But these weren’t just any notes. They were notes that predicted the future of technology and the reason we consider Ada to be the mother of computers.
Babbage intended the Analytical Engine to be, basically, an extremely primitive calculator, but Ada realized the machine could do much more. In her notes she theorized that the Analytical Engine could not only be programed to do a task, but that it could repeat a series of instructions. She also created an algorithm for the Analytical Enginie to compute a series of Bernoulli numbers. There’s no denying that her notes provided a detailed description of how to develop a computer and software.
Her notes were so groundbreaking, she published her theories and algorithms in 1843. Here’s the catch: because she was a women and women weren’t taken seriously in the 1840s, she published her findings under the pen name A.A.L.
Despite her revolutionary findings, her article didn’t recieve much attention while she was alive. Honestly, people didn’t get it, even mathematicians and inventors didn’t fully understand her futuristic concepts. She was just too far ahead of her time.
Ada lived a full but short life. She died in 1852 at the age of 36 from cancer. Who knows what she may have discovered and accomplished if she had lived another 36 years.
Although many people consider her the mother of computers, just as many people discredit her achievement. I don’t see why. It’s not unbelievable to think a well educated woman could create revolutionary theories and advancements in technology. And that’s exactly what Ada did. Let’s celebrate the brilliant mind of a woman 100 years ahead of her time. Without her, I might not have been able to write and publish this post.
Does Ada deserve her legacy? Leave a comment below!