"The World's First Computer Programmer," "The Enchantress Of Numbers," "The Founder of Scientific Computing" -- these are just a few monikers for Augusta Ada King nee Byron, Countess of Lovelace, the woman celebrated on Monday's Google Doodle. But who exactly was the woman we now call "Ada Lovelace" and what's she being celebrated for? The answer, as is often the case with Google's doodles, takes a quick search.
Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord George Gordon Byron (yes, the Lord Byron) and Lady Anne Isabella Byron -- making her the famed poet's only legitimate child. Her mother, deadly afraid she would inherit her famous father's madness, put her on a tutoring regimen light on poetics and heavy on math and science. The tutoring paid off, if not in the way Lady Byron may have hoped: little Ada became a mathematical genius who was in many ways as unconventional as her father.
Her mathematical genius came to light most strikingly in her work with Charles Babbage. Babbage was partway into the process of designing the first mechanical computer (the "Analytical Engine") when he and Ada Lovelace met. Lovelace was impressed by his work, and began a correspondence with him -- a correspondence within which she would not only write the first computer algorithm (a method for calculating Bernoulli's numbers) but also predict later computers' abilities to do more than mathematical calculations. While Babbage saw the machine merely as a complex calculator, Lovelace realized that the Analytical Engine was in essence, a machine for manipulating symbols -- and no rule stated the symbols must be mathematical. Speaking of a computer that could compose music, for instance, she wrote:
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.
Sadly, the world's first hacker died young: at age 36, Ada Lovelace succumbed to uterine cancer. Babbage's Analytical Engine was not built in her lifetime, and Lovelace was never able to see the reality of her predictions on the possibilities of computing. Her writings, considered unimportant after her death, were only "rediscovered" in the 1940's. Her recognition as one of the most prophetic people in computing has led to the creation of Ada Lovelace Day, an "international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths" held annually in mid-October.
Still hungry for more? Check out these previous Google Doodles in our slideshow.
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