Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace 1836,
painting by Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1793–1872)
Signature Ada Lovelace.PNG

Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace , commonly known as Ada Lovelace (born Hon. Augusta Ada Byron ; born  December 10, 1815 in London , †  November 27, 1852 ibid), was a British mathematician . She worked with Charles Babbage on the analytical engine he developed. In 1843 she published an extensive commentary on the programming of the machine developed by Babbage. Because of this, she is considered by some historians to be "the first person who can be called a programmer". Other historians reject this view and point out that Babbag's personal notes from 1836/1837 contain the first programs for the machine.

The programming language Ada , the Lovelace Medal and the Ada Lovelace Award were named after her.


Ada Byron at the age of 4

She was born on December 10, 1815, to Anne Isabella Noel-Byron, 11th Baroness Wentworth , and George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron . Ada was her father's only child born in wedlock; his two other children had different mothers. Ada Lovelace 'mother moved due to ongoing arguments with Lord Byron on January 16, 1816, together with one month old Ada to her parents in Kirkby Mallory . On April 21, 1816, Lord Byron signed a deed of separation and left England a few days later. Except for one poem written on the occasion of this farewell, Lord Byron had no relationship with his daughter, she never met him. When Ada was eight years old, he died.

Ada's mother, who was interested in mathematics and who had also been taught natural sciences and mathematics by private tutors in her youth, made it possible for Ada to train in natural sciences. Ada Byron was often sick as a child and adolescent and is described by contemporary witnesses as both passionate and extremely interested in science. She showed a keen public interest in various mathematical and scientific issues and thus violated the social conventions of her time. In the course of her mathematical studies, Ada Lovelace met the mathematician Mary Somerville and Charles Babbage , whose salon she attended at the age of 17. She began a long-term scientific correspondence with him and became his assistant. Significant impact on their later educational background and her major work - the notes - had Augustus De Morgan , a professor at University College London , who himself fundamental contributions to the development of mathematical logic provided. Lovelace took lessons from him from 1841.

In 1834 Ada Byron married William King, 8th Baron King , who was promoted to Earl of Lovelace in 1838 . He, too, had a mathematical education and, since women were forbidden from entering libraries and universities at the time, was admitted to the Royal Society for her sake , where he copied articles for her. She gave birth to three children:

  • Byron (1836-1862), Viscount Ockham, 12th Baron Wentworth;
  • Anne Isabella , called Annabella (1837–1917), 15th Baroness Wentworth, ⚭ Wilfrid Scawen Blunt ;
  • Ralph Gordon (1839-1906), 2nd Earl of Lovelace, 12th Baron Wentworth.

After the death of Ada King's mother in 1860, her husband changed the family name from "King" to "King-Noel" as her general heir.

Ada Lovelace's role as wife and mother made scientific work more and more difficult for her. In her correspondence with Mary Somerville, she wrote that she was leading an unhappy marriage because, besides pregnancy and childcare, she had so little time to study mathematics and her second passion, music; she was a "passionate harpist".

To distract herself, she plunged into social life and had several love affairs. She bet on horses with great enthusiasm. She is said to have spent the last years of her life developing a mathematically sophisticated "safe" betting system. Ada Lovelace died of cervical cancer at the age of 36 . According to her request, she was buried next to her father in St. Mary Magdalene Church in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. A memorial plaque in Latin reminds of this to this day.


Lovelace has been interested in scientific developments all her life, including questions about the possibility of flying or describing the work of the brain mathematically. After her first meeting with Babbage in 1833, she was quickly fascinated by his work on the "analytical machine". She used her acquaintance with Mary Somerville to be able to work on the calculator as often as possible. She compared the “analytical machine” with the steam-powered jacquard loom, which was ultra-modern at the time . These new types of looms could use punch card programming to produce any number of complicated patterns without direct human influence. Babbage was impressed with Lovelace's intelligence and analytical skills.

Babbag's “analytical machine” was never built in his lifetime. On the one hand, the precision mechanics were not yet sufficiently developed to manufacture the machine parts with the necessary precision, on the other hand, the British Parliament refused to finance Babbag's research program after it had already funded the development of the predecessor machine - the Difference Engine - with 17,000 British pounds (a Worth around £ 3.4 million in 2014). In 1842 Babbage gave a lecture on his invention at the University of Turin. On this basis, the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea produced a description of Babbag's Analytical Engine in French, which was published in Switzerland. At Babbag's request, Ada Lovelace translated it into English in 1843. The article represented a kind of explanation and operating manual for the planned machine. She expanded this translation with her own comments and further developments. These Notes were about twice as long as Menabrea's original article when they were published.

Babbage tried to use Lovelace's fame to criticize the cancellation of funds under her name. However, Lovelace insisted on clearly separating their technical part.

In Lovelace's Notes there are a number of concepts that go far ahead of the state of research around 1840. While her contributions to computer architecture and the fundamentals of programming were largely forgotten until their rediscovery in the 1980s, their positions on artificial intelligence played a certain role in epistemological debates as "Lady Lovelace's Objection" when this research area of ​​computer science was founded.

The table developed by Ada Lovelace for calculating the Bernoulli numbers ("Note G" in the Notes ).

Ada Lovelace presented in the Notes a written plan for calculating the Bernoulli numbers in diagram form, which can be considered the first published formal program.

Scientific contribution

Adding machine vs. computer

A comment from her Notes shows that she had figured out the crucial difference between a mere adding machine and a computer :

“The limits of arithmetic were crossed the moment the idea of ​​using the [programming] cards was born, and the analytical engine has nothing in common with simple calculating machines. It is unique and the possibilities it suggests are extremely interesting. "

A calculating machine can only perform a fixed calculation or is dependent on manual input of the operations to be performed. With programming, however, you can formulate arbitrarily complex algorithms for the computer and run them automatically.

Applications of the machine

A second remark proves that she also recognized the possibility of doing more than just arithmetic tasks with a computer:

"[The Analytical Engine] could be applied to things other than numbers if one could find objects whose interactions can be represented by the abstract science of operations and which are suitable for manipulation by the instructions and mechanisms of the device."

Babbag's motivation for the Analytical Engine was the calculation of tables of numbers for use in science and engineering. Lovelace, on the other hand, had recognized the far greater potential of the machine: It would not only be able to do numerical calculations, but also combine letters and compose music. This is based on the relations of tones, which can be expressed as number combinations.

Hardware vs. software

Ada Lovelace also recognized that the machine has a physical part, namely the copper wheels and punched cards, and a symbolic part, i.e. the automatic calculations that are encoded in the punched cards. In doing so, she anticipated the division into hardware and software .

Lady Lovelace's Objection

In the Notes of 1843, Lovelace wrote: “The machine can [only] do what we are able to tell it to do; d. Ex .: meant to follow our ] analysis. However, it has no ability to cognize analytical relationships or truths. ”Colloquially, Lovelace postulates here that a machine, in contrast to the human mind, has no ability to intuition and is therefore not capable of its own knowledge.

Alan Turing addresses this objection as "Lady Lovelace's Objection" in his 1950 article Computing Machinery and Intelligence . The thesis (and Turing's contradiction against it) has since been the subject of repeated debates in both computer science and philosophy.

Criticism of the reception of Ada Lovelace's scientific contribution

Some researchers judge based on the modern definition of "programming" that Ada Lovelace should not be called the first programmer because her "program" did not anticipate aspects of later programming languages ​​such as subroutines or branches. Furthermore, the Charles Babbage researcher Doron Swade points out that Babbag's personal notes from the years 1836/1837 contained the first programs for the machine, which is why the writing of the first program should not be attributed to Lovelace.

Projects related to Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace in Art and Pop Culture

Portrait inspired by a work by AE Chalons for the Ada Initiative, which supports women in open technology contexts
  • In Sydney Padua's largely counterfactual comic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer , Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace put an analytical engine into operation.
  • The movie Conceiving Ada ( "Conceiving Ada", USA 1997) by Lynn Hershman Leeson (director) is based on Lovelace's lives. Topics are artificial life, DNA, history and memory.
  • In episode 5 of the Halt and Catch Fire series (2014), Ada Lovelace is the godfather for the name of a newly developed BIOS.
  • On December 10, 2012, on her 197th birthday, Google honored Ada Lovelace with its own Google Doodle .


  • 2015/2016: In the beginning there was Ada. Women in Computer History. Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum. On the occasion of the 200th birthday of Ada Lovelace. "The exhibition puts the development of information technology in relation to the female role models of the 19th and 20th centuries."

See also


  • James Essinger: Ada's algorithm. How Lord Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace launched the digital age. London 2013.
  • Walter Isaacson : Innovators. (How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks created the digital Revolution). Simon & Schuster, New York NY a. a. 2014, ISBN 978-1-4767-0869-0 .
  • Eugene Eric Kim, Betty Alexandra Toole: Ada and the first computer. In: Scientific American . Volume 280, No. 5, May 1999, pp. 76-81.
  • Sybille Krämer (Ed.): Ada Lovelace. The pioneer of computer technology and her successors. Fink, Paderborn 2015, ISBN 978-3-7705-5986-2 (on the exhibition At the Beginning Ada Was - Women in Computer History from September 2, 2015 to July 10, 2016 in the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum in Paderborn).
  • Sadie Plant: zeros + ones. Digital women and the culture of new technologies. Berlin-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8270-0290-7 .
  • Dorothy Stein: Ada. A Life and a Legacy. MIT Press, Cambridge MA et al. a. 1985, ISBN 0-262-19242-X (English).
    • Ada. The bride of science. Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-931659-13-5 .
    • Ada Augusta Lovelace. A woman at the beginning of the modern age. Translated from English by Björn Bossmann and Sabine Kreiner. Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-931659-64-X .
  • Betty A. Toole: Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers. A Selection from the Letters of Lord Byron's Daughter and Her Description of the First Computer. Strawberry Press, Mill Valley CA 1992, ISBN 0-912647-09-4 (biography).
  • Catherine Turney: Byron's Daughter. A Biography of Elizabeth Medora Leigh. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York NY 1972, ISBN 0-684-12753-9 .
  • Benjamin Woolley: Byron's daughter. Ada Lovelace - the poet of mathematics (= construction pocket books. Volume 2123). Aufbau-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-7466-2123-2 .
  • Miranda Seymour: In Byron's wake: the turbulent lives of Lord Byron's wife and daughter: Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace Simon & Schuster, London 2018, ISBN 978-1-4711-3857-7 .
  • Anne Kunze: Ada and the algorithm . In: Die Zeit , No. 5/2014, accessed on February 14, 2019.


Web links

Commons : Ada Lovelace  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Stein 1985, p. 17.
  2. Ventana al Conocimiento: Ada Lovelace: Original and Visionary, but no programmer. December 9, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2019 (American English).
  3. Stein 1985, p. 14.
  4. Turney 1972, p. 35.
  5. Turney 1972, pp. 36-38.
  6. ^ Last leaving England. I. Personal, Lyric, and Elegiac. Lord Byron. 1881. Poetry of Byron. Retrieved February 14, 2019 .
  7. a b c d e f g h i j Christoph Dorner: Ada, who is Ada? In 1842 a young aristocrat helped build a calculating machine, the forerunner of the computer. But Ada Lovelace has been forgotten, just like many other pioneers in computer science. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . September 14, 2015, No. 211, p. 18.
  8. Turney 1972, p. 138.
  9. ^ Anne Kunze: Ada Lovelace: Ada and the algorithm . In: The time . January 25, 2014, ISSN  0044-2070 ( [accessed February 14, 2019]).
  10. ^ Betty Alexandra Toole: Poetical Science . Ed .: Liverpool University Press. doi : 10.3828 / BJ.1987.6 .
  11. Ada's life. In: Ada Lovelace and Computer Science. Retrieved February 14, 2019 .
  12. ^ LF Menabrea: Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage . With notes upon the memoir by the translator. In: Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève . tape 82 . Geneva 1842 ( Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage ( Memento of September 29, 2015 in the Internet Archive )).
  13. ^ Benjamin Woolley: The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter . Ed .: AU: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-72436-1 , pp. 277-280 .
  14. Patricia Fara: Athene's Owl: A History of Women in Science . Wizard, 2005.
  15. ^ University of Magdeburg: Ada Lovelace and computer science . 2015.
  16. ^ Ada Lovelace: Original and Visionary, but No Programmer. Retrieved January 15, 2019 .
  17. Jump up ↑ Attempt to get Ada Lovelace on her feet. Retrieved January 15, 2019 .
  18. Doron Swade: Charles Babbage Difference Engine No. and 2. In: YouTube. Talks at Google, May 12, 2008, accessed January 14, 2019 .
  19. ^ Association for Women in Computing (AWC) - Ada Lovelace Awards. In: Retrieved July 26, 2016 .
  20. ^ Ada Lovelace Project. Retrieved March 6, 2020 .
  21. About Us. In: About Us. Ada Initiative, 2011, accessed October 9, 2012 .
  22. ^ Ada Lovelace Day website
  23. Who was Ada? - Ada Lovelace Day. Retrieved February 14, 2019 .
  25. Friedrich Christian Delius : The woman for whom I invented the computer . Rowohlt, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-87134-642-2 .
  26. Sydney Padua Blog
  27. Conceiving Ada in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  28. ^ "Conceiving Ada" film presentation ( memento of March 10, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on August 30, 2014.
  29. Halt and Catch Fire Episode 5: Which PC Pioneer Are You?
  30. 197th Birthday of Ada Lovelace , accessed June 26, 2016.
  31. ^ Message from the museum on the exhibition , accessed on September 20, 2015.
  32. Publishing information .