Happy birthday to Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, patron saint of computer programmers. “The Enchantress of Numbers” was born this day in 1815, in London, the only legitimate (tch, what an insulting term that is!) child of Lord Byron. Her mother, Isabelle –a math whiz in her own right nicknamed “The Princess of Parallelograms” by P.M. Benjamin Disraeli– separated from Byron shortly after Ada’s birth, and raised her to be unlike her eccentric poet father, emphasizing tutelage in music and math. (Ada never met Lord Byron, who died in Greece, aged 36.)
Ada Lovelace is best known for her work describing the Analytical Engine, an early mechanical general-purpose computer conceived by mathematician/inventor/philosopher Charles Babbage. Today, she’s recognized as the “first programmer” for her work on the computing machine that Babbage hadn’t even built yet. Unlike Babbage or anyone else, she had the foresight to recognize the potential for computers to evolve past simple calculations and number-crunching. Her voluminous notes included predictions for future developments as far-out as computer-generated music! She accomplished this in an era where, to put it gently, noblewomen were not encouraged to engage in such rigorous intellectual pursuits.
Like her father, Lovelace was headstrong, prone to fits of melodrama, and she died young. Her family buried her next to Lord Byron in the yard of the Church of St Mary Magdalene in 1852.
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