The Enchantress of Numbers

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Stories May 10, 2019 The Enchantress of Numbers

The daughter of famed British poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace was a force to be reckoned with herself. Why? Well, she’s considered to have written the language for the world’s first computer program… all the way back in the 1800s.

Bye Bye Byron

Born Augusta Ada Byron in 1815, the woman we now know as Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate daughter of playboy poet Lord Byron and his wife Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. Their marriage was short-lasting and troublesome, with Byron leaving only a month after Ada’s birth to go off and woo other women with his words. But Byron’s departure was a blessing in disguise for young Ada.

Lady Byron was so terribly worried that Ada would inherit her father’s “insanity” that she schooled her daughter early on in the subjects of logic and mathematics, because, nothing quite beats away the crazies like knowing that 2+2 will always equal 4, even if your husband leaves you for some actress.1

The Power of Flight, Does That Do Anything for You2

An early indication of Ada’s mathematically fortitude came up one day when she decided she wanted to fly. Rather than vault herself off the roof of her house with just some happy thoughts and pixie dust, Ada went about achieving her desire methodically, studying the size of birds relative to their wings and used materials like paper, wires, and feathers (duh) to try and create some of her own. Ada even wrote a book called “Flyology,” where she imagined the concept of a steam engine powering a flying contraption shaped like a horse that you ride into the air (cough, overachiever, cough).

Ada Lovelace may not have invented the airplane, but she sure as heck was close to inventing a pegasus.

Excess Babbage

When Ada was 17 she met Charles Babbage, a man who would come to be known as “the father of the computers.” Good ole Charles is a man who will hereinafter be referred to as “Babby,” because it’s adorable and no one can stop us.

At the time of their meeting, Babby was working on a “Difference Machine” that could make reliable calculations by turning a handle. It was Babby’s work on a new project, called an “Analytical Engine,” that would inspire Ada to come up with the idea that launched a thousand techies.

Under Babby’s tutelage, Ada dove deep into the prospect of computation. So much so that Babby gave her the title of “Enchantress of Numbers.”

So valued was Ada as a computer (get it?) that she was asked to translate a French paper on the new machine by a mathematician named Luigi Federico Menabrea into English. She not only translated the paper but added her own notes and ideas, making the darn thing almost three times as long. In the paper, Ada introduced the idea that computers could use numbers to represent everything from letters to symbols. It was this idea that lead to the creation of the very first computer program.3

But What About Robots, Ada?

Even in the 1800s, Ada knew that people would wonder if computers would one day rebel and overthrow us all and make us live in a human zoo.4

In her notes. Ada not only brought up that issue but squashed it, saying that a computer program would and could only do what its human programmed it for. So when Siri starts that evil laugh in the middle of the night, just know that it’s not Siri that wants to kill you, it’s whoever programmed her.

When a Man Lovelaces a Woman

Ada may have laid the building blocks for one of the biggest mathematical achievements of her time, but she was still missing one thing- a cool name. In 1835, Ada met and married one William King who, three years later, became Earl of Lovelace, making her Countess of Lovelace. Even though Ada never met her famous poet father (he died when she was 8), she at least got a name worthy of prose.

Even When You’re Good at Math, the House Wins

While Ada used her math powers for good most of the time, she did try to use them for a less good goal: gambling. Ada was an avid gambler and thought she had devised a way to ensure large payouts at the horse races. Ada, like most folks who thought they could beat the system, was wrong and ended up losing more than she won.

Greater Than the Sum of Her Parts

In 1852, at the age of 36, Ada Lovelace died of uterine cancer. She was buried right next to her father, Lord Byron, a man she never knew.

In some mathematical and historical circles, it is debated whether or not Ada or Babby wrote the notes that contained the ideas that would become computer programing but many dismiss her dismissal as a way to keep math a strict “boys club.”5 Regardless, Ada’s legacy is seen today as a reminder that women are capable of anything with the right encouragement and education. The U.S. Department of Defense even named a computer language after her so this woman who added up all her talents and subtracted her haters might one day be the key helping us not be divided from our very lives.

Math joke high five!

Notes 📌

  1. Klein. C. (December 10, 2015). History Stories
  2. That’s levitation homes.- Tenacious D.
  3. The Biography Website (April 5, 2018). Ada Lovelace Biography
  4. Okay maybe that’s just our fear…
  5. Morais. B. (October 15, 2013). Ada Lovelace, The First Tech Visionary

Notes & Citations 📌

  • Klein, Christopher. 10 Things You May Not Know About Ada Lovelace (2015, December 10th)
  • Morais, Betsy. Ada Lovelace, The First Tech Visionary (2013, October 15th)
  • The Biography Website. Ada Lovelace Biography (2018, April 5th)
written with 💖 by Kayla Mahoney

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