Today marks the celebration of one of the most influential women to have ever graced the fields of STEM; Ada Lovelace.
167 years on from her death, the world celebrates her ground-breaking achievements with the aim of inspiring the new generation of women to subsequently produce future role-models for women studying STEM.
Let’s revisit her journey, from her beginnings as a teenager at university, up until the present era, where she is now considered the world’s first author of a computer program – a century before the modern computer had even been invented.
A 17-year-old Ada Lovelace makes the acquaintance of Charles Babbage, British mathematician widely recognised as the ‘Father of Computers’.
Babbage invites Lovelace to see his own ‘difference engine’. Fascinated with the machine, Lovelace regularly visited Babbage. Babbage was impressed by her knowledge on the matter and her analytical skills.
Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans—every thing in short but the Enchantress of Number” – Babbage wrote to her in 1843.
1840 – 1843
Charles Babbage is invited to the University of Turin regarding his proposed ‘Analytical Engine’. Charles Wheatstone, a friend of Babbage, gave Lovelace the responsibility of translating Babbage’s lecture that was earlier transcribed into French by Luigi Menabrea, the future Prime Minister of Italy.
During a 9-month period between 1842 and 1843, Ada translated Menabrea’s French transcript with the addition of her own notes that she labelled from A-G.
Ada’s notes came out three times longer than the article itself .
In her famous Note G section she, in detail, describes a method for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli Numbers – a sequence of rational numbers which occur frequently in number theory.
To put this simply, Ada Lovelace had written a computer algorithm.
A little under 10 years later, Ada Lovelace dies of cancer at the age of 36.
But this does not mark the end of her story.
It was only until a century later that her work on the Analytical Machine, particularly Note G, received recognition in a time when the the first computers were actually in the course of being built, notably in the work of B.V. Bowden’s Faster than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines, and also Alan Turing with the invention of the computer used to crack the German enigma codes during the second world war.
US Department of Defense named a programming language after her, naming it Ada.
It was only in 2009 that Ada Lovelace was globally and publicly recognised with the commencement of Ada Lovelace Day.
Today, Ada Lovelace’s predictions that computers would be able to handle more complex algorithms other than just numbers, be able to manipulate anything within a fixed set of rules, and ultimately be used for both scientific and practical uses have come true in the form of the modern computers that we know.
Although there is much controversy on Lovelace’s contributions to the field, much debate on her title as the world’s first programmer, there is no doubt on the effect she’s had on STEM, today’s inventions, and the female STEM pioneers of the future.