On This Day…

o,On the 10th December 1815 Ada Lovelace – the world’s first computer programmer – was born

Ada Lovelace was, known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She  recognised the machine had applications beyond pure calculation. A computer programmer she published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine.

Working with Babbage

Ada was the only legitimate child of Annabella Milbanke and the poet Lord Byron. Her mother insisted that Ada be tutored privately and – unusually for a women at that time – study mathematics too. She was helped in her advanced studies by mathematician-logician Augustus de Morgan, the first professor of mathematics at the University of London.

As a teenager her mathematical talents led her to a long working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage (known as the father of computers). Lovelace first met him in June 1833 through their mutual friend, and her private tutor, Mary Somerville. At the time, he was working on the Difference Engine, a calculating machine whose significance Ada immediately grasped.

In 1843 she published a translation from the French of an article on Babbage’s new calculating device, the Analytical Engine by an Italian engineer, Luigi Menabrea, to which Ada added extensive notes of her own. The Notes included statements by Ada that from a modern perspective are visionary. She speculated that the Engine:

‘might act upon other things besides number… the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent’.

The idea of a machine that could manipulate symbols in accordance with rules, and that number could represent entities other than quantity mark the fundamental transition from calculation to computation. Ada was the first to articulate this notion and was the first to express the potential for computers outside of mathematics.

Sadly for her and for Charles Babbage, the 19th century was not to be the age of computers. Babbage’s Analytical Engine, though “the first machine that deserved to be called a computer” was never finished. Lovelace herself died of cancer in 1852..

Roger So Far

The Corps Centenary book ‘Roger So Far” celebrates many of the Corps’ achievements during its first 100 years.

This hardback, illustrated coffee table book is packed full of stories about people, units and events in the context of campaigns, technologies and equipment. RRP £30 with discounts for Regular, Reserve and Retired Corps members.

Buy now from the Royal Signals Museum Shop

Image: Original watercolor portrait for the Ada InitiativeSVG conversion: Fred the Oyster, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Recognition

The computer language Ada, created on behalf of the United States Department of Defence, was named after Lovelace. The reference manual for the language was approved on 10 December 1980 and the Department of Defence Military Standard for the language, MIL-STD-1815, was given the number of the year of her birth