Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, was a Victorian-era mathematician and musician who is generally accepted as the first computer programmer.

Ada was born on December 10, 1815 to famous British poet Lord Byron and his wife for one year Annabella Milbanke. (Lord Byron divorced Anna a few weeks after Ada's birth and left England, never to return.) Ada was born into upper-class life in London. She was self taught in math and geometry, but was later tutored in astronomy by William Frend, and math by Augustus De Morgan. She also learned to play the piano, flute and violin. Ada Byron married William King, Earl of Lovelace in 1835, having three children to him and gaining the title Countess of Lovelace.

A fellow mathematician Mary Somerville introduced Ada to Charles Babbage at the age of 17, thus beginning a fruitful intellectual relationship.

Ada's mathematical claim to fame came from her translation of a paper by Italian scientist Menabrea based on Babbage's work. The final paper, titled Observations on Mr. Babbage's Analytic Engine, was about three times thicker than the original Italian version, Ada having added many new footnotes and addendums. The notes contain some of the first programs for the Analytical Engine, in particular a method for determining Bernoulli numbers. The paper was published by Babbage, but authorship was credited only to the initials A.A.L. since Victorian society did not view science as a respectable pastime for a woman. It took 30 years for the true author to be exposed.

Augusta Ada Byron died November 27, 1852 of uterine cancer, a sickness she had been battling for much of her later life.

Ada Lovelace is attributed with having the clarity of vision to foresee future applications of the Analytical Engine as a general purpose computer. She imagined using the machine to manipulate symbols, meaning it could generate more than just numbers. Ada envisioned the engine creating music, or rewriting its own program in a sort of feedback loop. She has been honoured with Ada, a programming language named after her, and was a character in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's book The Difference Engine. Lately, however, her reputation has been thrown into doubt by at least one historian.

Benjamin Woolley in his book The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter argues that Ada had only a shaky grasp of elementary algebra. He further claims that Babbage himself supplied the indicies, tables and equations used in the Menabrea footnotes, using a Babbage autobiography written 20 years after Ada's death as evidence. Woolley also notes that the Ada's programs were all written by Babbage three to seven years earlier. Finally, he presents Augusta Ada Byron as an opium-addled, hysteria prone compulsive gambler. (Though not necessarily "compulsive," Babbage and Lovelace bet and lost much money at horse races trying to get the capital to build the Analytical Engine. Unfortunately, their foolproof betting algorithms didn't work, landing them both in serious debt.) Certainly an unflattering and almost libelous image for a scientist.

Despite Woolley's remarks, Lady Lovelace is remembered as the first hacker, and progenitor of the computer age, an inspiration to women (and men) in science even today.

http://www.ex.ac.uk/BABBAGE/ada.html
http://cs.fit.edu/~ryan/ada/lovelace.html
http://www.uwplatt.edu/~wise/lovelace/lovelace.html
http://www.techtv.com/news/culture/story/0,24195,3316503,00.html
http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/tap/Files/ada-lovelace-notes.html

Again, it the Analytical Engine might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine . . . Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
Ada Byron King's breakthrough was not technical, but visionary - which makes the question of her proficiency in algebra moot anyway. Ahead even of Babbage himself, she grasped the potential applications of the Analytical Engine, and its fundamental difference from, say, Pascal's calculating machine (which we would equate to a modern calculator rather than a computer). In the above quote, what she foretells is essentially digitalisation of data, a process which we are currently living through the complete triumph of - even human voices are no longer recorded in analogue.

She also recognised the potential relationship between the machine and the person who uses it (or rather operates it - Ada's vision did not extend quite to as far as the uninformed end-user), the responsibilities and difficulties of communicating to a machine in a clear and concise manner the sequence of operations required from it. It is the plan she drew up to facilitate this interaction that earned her her fame as the first programmer.

Augusta Ada Byron was the product of a disastrous marriage and never met her father, although, at her request, she is buried next to him in Nottinghamshire. Her visionary and imiginative mind was surely inherited from her father, although her scientifically inclined mother did all she could to suppress any poetic tendencies, which she considered dangerous and disruptive. As well as an avid amateur mathematician, Ada was also an accomplished musician and an excellent horsewoman. Far from any modern preconceptions of nerdy studiousness, she was a remarkably handsome and vivacious woman who moved with her husband in the best London society.

Ada was originally introduced to Babbage by a mutual mathematician friend, Mrs. Somerville, who was a recognised scientist and whose texts were being read at Cambridge. The introduction produced a lifelong friendship which in turn spawned a barrage of correspondence on mathematics, and later on, all subjects of life. She was also close to Dickens, who was the last person outside her family circle to visit her before she died, and many other luminaries of the period.

Her supposed addiction to gambling should be viewed in historical context - gambling was as widespread an activity as going to the movies in the Regency era, and many a rich and powerful person ended their life in exile to avoid the debtor's prison. It is true that she gambled, but no evidence exists of her doing it to any material excess beyond what was cosidered normal in her social circle.

Ada Lovelace was a remarkable person, and her being a woman has very little to do with it. While it is true that she is one of a very small number of women scientists whose names are instantly recognisable to people today, it is important to remember that this list is constantly growing thanks to research and re-emancipation of women's contribution ot the arts and sciences. It is rather when one considers that she made a deep impression on Babbage and Mrs. Somerville at the tender age of 17, and that her youthful fascination with mathematics lasted all her life, that one is able to appreciate her as one who possessed that rare dedication and enthusiasm which is the largest part of genius.

Quote from http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/tap/Files/ada-lovelace-notes.html

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