Visionary, Innovator, Trailblazer: Remembering Ada Lovelace
At Pimberly, we feel it’s important to remember those who paved the way for modern computing and how their work helped to facilitate everything we do. Pioneers like Ada Lovelace blazed a trail in the fields of computer science, mathematics and software development. Known for her work in developing the first computer algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, Lovelace helped to usher in the idea of what modern computers would become.
She built her life on the idea of poetical science, arguing that the imagination was crucial to the application of scientific concepts. Combining creativity and technological expertise is important for everything we do at Pimberly. From the powerful software that we develop, to the effectiveness of our sales and marketing teams, Lovelace’s poetical science is a philosophy that we embrace.
The world’s first computer programmer, Lovelace’s story is truly inspirational…
Born into nobility
Augusta Ada Byron, born on the 10th December 1815, was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke.
From an early age, Lovelace developed a passion for mathematics and technology. Her mother was keen to encourage her studies. Lovelace excelled in her education and received tutoring from influential people such as astronomer Mary Somerville.
These two women became close friends and it was through Somerville that she was introduced to the man who would become her mentor: Charles Babbage.
Babbage and the Analytical Engine
Lovelace met Babbage in 1833, at the age of 17. She became intrigued by Babbage’s plans to create a machine that he called The Difference Engine. It was meant to produce error-free tables for engineering and banking purposes. Babbage was never able to complete The Difference Engine because of funding issues.
His next concept, the Analytical Engine, fascinated Lovelace even more. The Analytical Engine was meant to be a general purpose computer that improved on the basic design of the Difference Engine.
Groundbreaking computer work
In 1842, Lovelace translated an article from the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea about The Analytical Engine. In addition to the translation, she also included her own notes about the device.
A fully programmable device, the Analytical Engine was meant to execute data-driven instructions in a non-sequential order. It had four main features: the store, the mill, the reader and the printer.
The store acted as the point where data would be held before processing, while the mill acted in a similar way to a modern centralised processing unit (CPU) by relying on its own internal processes to function. The reader and the printer acted as input and output devices for the Analytical Engine, inspiring the process in which hardware like a mouse inputs data into a computer.
Lovelace’s notes were influential because they defined what The Analytical Engine could achieve. The notes explained all the components of the machine and provided the blueprint for the modern computer system.
Lovelace’s work was instrumental in presenting the idea that computers could go beyond simple number-crunching. She mused that The Analytical Engine “might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”
This concept proved to be groundbreaking for the design of today’s computers. By suggesting the Analytical Engine was capable of creative exercises, Lovelace opened the door for future computer functions such as image creation and writing text on a keyboard.
She also proposed the Analytical Engine could compute Bernoulli numbers. In mathematics, Bernoulli numbers are a sequence of rational numbers. Lovelace provided a detailed explanation of how the Bernoulli numbers could be fetched from the Analytical Engine’s store, used for calculation in the mill and moved back again.
This is significant because Lovelace described the first computer algorithm. Her notes provided a set of instructions that a computing device could use to reach an end result that hadn’t been calculated before hand.
On the 27th November 1852, Lovelace died from uterine cancer. She was only 36 at the time. The same age that her father passed away. As per her request, Lovelace was buried next to Lord Byron at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Lovelace’s contribution to the field of computer science was given the attention it deserved. Her notes were republished in B.V. Bowden’s Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines in 1953.
Since then, Lovelace has received many accolades for her work. For example, in 1980 the United States Department of Defense created the computer language ‘Ada’ to honour her. Lovelace’s accomplishments have become so inspirational that an annual celebration was started for her in 2009. Ada Lovelace Day is held on the second Tuesday of October and aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology and maths.
Ada Lovelace is remembered as a woman who followed her own path. The passion and dedication she had for technology is what makes her such a strong role model.
We’re proud to feature a mural of Lovelace in our office. It’s a powerful reminder of innovation. Of what it means to constantly strive to understand the world. Lovelace will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats of computer science.