An eye for an i #246 Children

When Lovelace met Babbage…

On June 5, 1833, a chance encounter allowed Ada Lovelace to become a life-long friend of Charles Babbage, often considered the father of computing. This meeting led Lovelace onto what is now widely considered as the first computer program. A.S.Ganesh brings you the details…

Much before we started fiddling with our gadgets, and even before we started sending out animals to space, we had to build a certain level of mastery with digital computers. That level of control took a long time coming and we will touching upon one of the starting pages of that story that involved Augusta Ada Lovelace. This was a time when the first computer devices had not been built.

Born to Lord George Gordon Byron, the famous poet, and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron, whom Lord Byron called the “Princess of Parallelograms”, Ada Byron’s childhood wasn’t easy. Within weeks of her birth her parents separated and Lord Byron soon left England, never to see his daughter again. When Ada was eight years old, Lord Byron died in Greece.

Unusual upbringing

In order to ensure that Ada did not follow in her father’s footsteps, she had the most unusual of upbringings for a girl during that age. Her mother believed that she could squash out the unpredictable temperament and mood swings she had seen in her father if Ada was brought up with challenging subjects like mathematics and science.

A talented girl that Ada was, shemade the most of this unusual environment. She had a flair for numbers and language and was lucky enough to have received her learning and instructions from some of the bests at that time.

Meets her mentor

And then, on June 5, 1833, a chance meeting with Charles Babbage put her onto her life’s work. As a 17-year-old attending one of her first parties, she was introduced to the inventor and mathematician. Babbage, who went on to become a friend and a mentor, couldn’t help but notice Ada’s taste for mathematics, and on his advice she began studying advanced mathematics.

Babbage introduced her to the “difference engine” that he had been working on, a device that could do mathematical calculations. Even though it was unfinished, she was fascinated by what she saw and was drawn to it.

She married William King, who inherited the title Earl of Lovelace in 1838, making Ada the Countess of Lovelace. Babbage, meanwhile, expanded on his idea and arrived at an “analytical engine”, which was to have the ability to handle even more complex computations.

Babbage gave a seminar on his analytical engine in 1841 in Turin, Italy. An Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea, who later went on to become the country’s Prime Minister, wrote an article about this seminar for a Swiss journal.

Even though Babbage was brilliant at conceiving ideas, it appears he wasn’t as well-equipped at communicating them. Ada translated the French text of Menabrea’s article into English and showed it to Babbage, who instructed her to expand it with her own notes.

Visionary

When her work was finally published in 1843, its length was three times the original. She commented upon the fact that Babbage’s machine, when it became a reality, could not only work on numbers, but also, perhaps, on music, graphics, symbols and what not. She went on to include a plan in one of the notes for the engine to calculate Bernoulli numbers. For these, she is often considered to be the first computer programmer.

Even though her works didn’t garner much interest during her time, a century later, in the midst of the booming computer industry, Ada received her due. Her contributions were recognised in the second half of the twentieth century and she is lauded for her efforts to put computing where it is today during its early days.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 8:49:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/when-lovelace-met-babbage/article18723004.ece

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