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Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is regarded as the first to recognize the full potential of a “computing machine” and one of the first computer programmers.

Lovelace was the only legitimate child of poet Lord Byron and his wife. All of Byron’s other children were born out of wedlock to other women. Byron separated from his wife a month after Ada was born and left England forever four months later. He died in the Greek War of Independence when Ada was eight years old. Her mother remained bitter and promoted Ada’s interest in mathematics and logic in an effort to prevent her from developing her father’s insanity. Despite this, Ada remained interested in Byron. Upon her eventual death, she was buried next to him at her request. Although often ill in her childhood, Ada pursued her studies assiduously. She married William King in 1835. King was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838, Ada becoming Countess of Lovelace.

Her educational and social exploits brought her into contact with scientists such as Charles Babbage, Michael Faraday, and the author Charles Dickens. Ada described her approach as “poetical science” and herself as an “Analyst (& Metaphysician)”.

When she was a teenager, her mathematical talents led her to a long friendship with fellow British mathematician Babbage, who is known as “the father of computers”. She was particularly interested in Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine. Lovelace first met him in June 1833, through their mutual friend, Mary Somerville.

Ada translated an article on the calculating engine, supplementing it with an elaborate set of notes, simply called Notes. These notes contain what many consider to be the first computer program. Lovelace’s notes are important in the early history of computers. She also developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while many others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities. Her mindset of “poetical science” led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine examining how individuals and society relate to technology.

She died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36.

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