Ada Lovelace – the first developer in the world

180 years ago, in 1833, the English scientist Charles Babbage created a digital computer project. It became the prototype and ancestor of current machines. In 1843, the mathematician Ada Lovelace declared comments about this event. According to commonly accepted opinion, it was the first computer application in the world, which is still present in laptops and PCs. It is difficult to believe as these people have not even had electricity, aside from the mass of other technologies following computer discovery. 

Ada Lovelace’s appearance in the world would not have gone unnoticed in any situation. The matter is that she was the only genuine child of the first European poet, Lord Byron. However, Ada did not want to associate her with the name of her father. Moreover, she personally had something to amaze the world and imprint herself on the sheets of history.

The lives and aspirations of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage unexpectedly intertwined. They shared their common passion for math. They met not on the sidelines of social circuits, but at a regular industrial exhibition, where Ada loved to look at the science and technology innovations. Charles is a 42-year-old scientist, a professor in the math department at Cambridge University, a member of the Royal Scientific Society, one of the greatest mathematicians around that time. On the flip side, Ada is a 17-year-old young maiden.

Babbage was seized with building a machine able to independently make complicated calculations for a person. Impassioned Ada set her heart upon ideas of a unique inventor, helping him in every way – with her mind and money. Moreover, she was begging the last money from those people she knew, including her great counterparts: Michael Faraday, David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Charles Dickens. However, mostly she got rejected in most situations. The local government initially supported Babbage, but everything was unsuccessful.

Machines were found incredibly big and heavy, and most importantly – extremely expensive. It was possible to build the only one, small differential machine. The second (large differential) did not have enough gunpowder. The third is the digital computer (analytical) and it was not built, just remaining as a project.

In 1840, Babbage lectured in Italy, telling about his ideas and the computer principle. Luigi Menabrea, a university lecturer (in the future, the Italian Prime Minister), recorded lectures in French and published them under the title Elements of the Babbage Analytical Machine.

At the request of her scientific friend, Ada undertook to translate the essay of Menabrea into English but approached work creatively. Having spent time with him for almost a year and adjusting her additions with Babbage by mail or at meetings, she added numerous comments to the translation, which more than doubled the volume of the monograph. On 52 pages of her own text, she not only gave a detailed description of the digital computer but also added clear and insightful instructions on how to use this machine and what it can do.

In a letter to Babbage, discussing his additions with him, Ada suggested introducing a sequence of rational Bernoulli numbers in the notes as an example of “calculating an indefinite function without a preliminary decision using a human head and hands” than anticipating the possibility of creating an artificial mind.

“The essence and purpose of the machine will vary depending on what information we put in it,” predicted Ada. “The machine will be able to compose music, draw pictures, and show science such ways that we never dreamed of.” With the help of digital computers, she wrote, people will design houses and industrial equipment, create interactive textbooks and virtual games. At the same time, she introduced the terms that programmers use to this day – “cycle”, “working cell”, “distribution map”, etc.

When you realize that the first full-fledged computer program will appear only 100 years later, you involuntarily enter Ada Lovelace with special respect and admiration. So, I think it is worth getting to know this amazing woman better.

Augusta Ada King-Byron, Countess Lovelace, or simply Ada Lovelace, was born in 1815 in London. Her parents, George Byron and Anna Isabella Milbank (Annabella), were married for only one year and broke up, because Annabella could not forgive her husband for his irresistible attraction to her own cousin, Augusta, the affair with which began long before their marriage. Annabella was a woman of strict rules, blue-blooded and had a rare passion for mathematician maths, for which her husband called her the Queen of parallelograms.

George Byron happened to see his newborn daughter only once. Annabella herself threw him (and not he, as many believe), ran off with a three-month-old girl to her parents and only from there wrote that she would not return. Proud and independent, she did not explain to anyone the reasons for the gap, which gave rise to numerous rumours about what exactly her husband had done in front of her. Because of the gossip that fell upon him and the accusations of all mortal sins (precisely mortal, since in Angie they were punishable by death) Byron left the country forever.

Living far from England, he was constantly interested in his daughter. And in a letter to his cousin, he wrote: “I hope that God will reward her with anything you like, but not with a poetic gift.” Annabella also hoped for the same, removing all the works of her ex-husband and poetry from the house.

Byron died at the age of 36 (in 1824) in Greece. His remains were transported to England – to the family crypt in the church of Hankell-Torkard near Newstead Abbey. Ada was only 9 years old at that time, and she had just begun to recover from her bed. And the girl had been sick for three long years – with measles, which at that time they were not yet able to treat. Her nature, which inherited the genes of both parents, developed contradictory and organically at the same time. Her father rewarded her with a fiery and romantic disposition, and her mother with a love for the exact sciences. A long period of illness made the girl recluse, but also became the pretext for her in-depth and comprehensive home education.

Annabella invited for her daughter not only the best doctors but also the best teachers. Among them – the outstanding Scottish mathematician and logic, Professor Augustus de Morgan. Carried away by esoteric numerology, de Morgan infected with his mystical comprehension of the world and an impressionable, thirsty for a miracle girl that later she backfired more than once. At the age of 12, Ada dreamed not of a fairy-tale prince, but of mechanical wings that could tear her off the ground and lift her to the sky. She did not just dream, but thought through and made the drawings of the personal design aircraft. At the age of 17, the daughter of Lord Byron was first published and presented to the king and queen. Refined, with impeccable manners, she was, as biographers write, “beautiful, elegant and mysteriously pale.” She danced beautifully, played several instruments, dressed magnificently, tastefully, knew several languages. However, those were not her only merits.

Not with her appearance and manners, but with mathematical knowledge and intelligence, Ada puzzled young people, sharp in their language, self-confident graduates of prestigious universities. Conducting a conversation with her on an equal footing was not on the shoulder not only to the cutesy young ladies but also to other adult scholars. Intrigued by such an unusual phenomenon, the young men sought the right to communicate with her, to win her favour – not even as a suitor, but as worthy interlocutors.

Ada was 19 when she married the 29-year-old Baron William King, who knew her from childhood, becoming Augustus Ada Byron-King, and after he inherited the title of Lord Lovelace and Lady Lovelace. And with this name went down in history. Their marriage was successful, but Ada lived a short life, and it was their fault that their family completely collapsed. (Eager to help Babbage get funding for his car, Ada tried to create a system of safe betting on the run and, being drawn in, derailed her condition and her husband.)

At the beginning of her marriage, at intervals of a year, she gave birth to three children. Family and life did not take it away from science, especially since William treated the spouse with mathematics with understanding, not only did not interfere but also indulged her, supporting her in all undertakings. In their home regularly gathered the cream of London society. One of the guests left his impressions of the owner: “She was not like anyone and had a talent not poetic, but mathematical and metaphysical.”

I do not know how about metaphysics, but the mystical deviation for the interests of Ada was clearly inherent, as was openly spoken by those who knew her. Moreover, without understanding the origins of the unique gift and paradoxical mind of this young lady, she was suspected even in collusion with the devil. Charles Dickens (he was 3 years older than Ada) quite seriously stated that “after her visits to the house there remains a trail of evil spirits”.

It must be admitted that she herself gave food for such conjectures, constantly remembering Satan in different contexts and hinting at her special abilities: “I swear by the devil that ten years won’t pass, and I will suck out enough vital juice from the secrets of the universe. Just as ordinary mortal minds and lips cannot do. No one knows what monstrous power lies still unused in my little flexible creature. ” An original statement, isn’t it? Those who endowed the fragile, painful creation with a “monstrous” spiritual power — God or the devil — we will never know, and this is also a matter of faith.

Having suffered a serious illness in childhood, Ada did not continue to shine with health. And then she was knocked down by the most terrible disease – a cancerous tumour. She died in the autumn of 1852, like her father, – untimely and from bloodletting, at the same age – at 36 years old. Fate forever divided them in life and miraculously balanced them in death. Father and daughter are resting next to the Byron family crypt.

In 1975, the US Department of Defense approved the decision to name in honour of the ingenious Lady Lovelace a universal programming language, one for the American armed forces, and then for NATO as a whole – “Ada”. Russian programmers wits did not accept to beat the ambiguity of such a name (in Russian sound, of course) and, in opposition to the language of Ada, created their own algorithmic language of Paradise. The well-known attack of the Soviet international journalist Melor Sturua, an ardent anti-Americanist: “The language of the Pentagon is the enemy of the world. The language of “Ada” is the voice of thermonuclear hell… In the language of “Ada”, a curse is heard to the human race.”

Not for nothing that grateful computer scientists from different countries have recently started to celebrate Programmer Day, which they informally celebrate twice a year: on December 10, on Ada Lovelace’s birthday, and on July 19, when she wrote the first program. In all universities of the world at the faculties of computer programming, students learn the universal language of “Ada” and use, among other things, the terms introduced into the circulation of this amazing woman already 180 years ago.

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