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May 26 2020 7

Augusta Ada King

Augusta Ada King was an English mathematician who is considered as the first computer programmer due to her recognition that Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer had abilities beyond pure calculation. She helped publish the first algorithm that was meant to be executed by the analytical engine in the mid-1800s. She was also the Countess of Lovelace and a writer. 

Augusta was born as Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815. She was the only legitimate child of poet Lord Byron and his wife, Lady Byron. Lord Byron did not have a happy marriage with Augusta’s mother. He had other children born out of wedlock to other women. Byron was separated from his wife one month after Augusta’s birth. He left England and never got to meet Augusta again until his death in Greece eight years later. Augusta’s mother insisted that she learns mathematics and science so as to avoid her loving poetry like her father. The two subjects were not characteristically a girl’s subject in the mid-1800s. In addition to the two subjects, her mother forced her to lie periodically so as to force her to exercise self-control. Despite that, Augusta named one of her sons after her father. She married William King in 1835 and had three children,  Byron (1836), Annabella (1837), and Gordon (1839). King became Earl of Lovelace in 1838, and Augusta became Countess of Lovelace.

Augusta was talented in both numbers and language. Her instructors included William King, family doctor, William Frend, a social reformer, and Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician. Her love for education made her meet scientists like Charles Babbage, Andrew Crosse, Charles Wheatstone, Sir David Brewster, Michael Faraday, and the author Charles Dickens. Babbage mentored Augusta, and through him, she was able to study advanced mathematics with Augustus de Morgan, a professor at the University of London. Augusta was fascinated by Babbage’s difference engine, which was created to perform mathematical calculations. Augusta was able to see the model, and another device meant to perform more complex calculations. The device was known as the analytical engine. Augusta was later asked to translate Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea’s article on Babbage’s device. Augusta translated the article from French to English and added her own ideas about what she had thought about the machine. Her work was later published in an English journal in 1843. In the article, Augusta shared her ideas on how the device could be given codes to accept letters and symbols. She also introduced the concept of looping, where the device could be set to execute and repeat a certain instruction. She is considered to be among the first computer programmers due to her ideas.

After a bout of cholera in 1837, Augusta had recurrent illnesses, including asthma and digestive system issues. She died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36. She was buried next to her father at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Augusta’s work on computers was discovered in the 1950s. B.V. Bowden republished her work in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines in 1953. She has had a computer language that was newly formed named “Ada” after her.

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