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When a Poet Marries a Mathematician

One of the world's greatest poets, Lord Byron, had fallen in love with a math genius, Annabella Milbanke in 1815, and this union of great minds would produce the world's first published computer programmer: Ada Lovelace.  

The year she wrote the computer program was 1843 and she was 27 years old.

Ada Lovelace

Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon, 1840)


She had come to write this computer program due to working with the Don Quixote of Mathematics & Invention, Charles Babbage, whom she met when she was seventeen, having been introduced by her Math tutor, Mary Sommerville, the Scottish Mathematician who wrote about "The Mechanism of the Heavens" in 1831.

The meeting is beautifully imagined and illustrated by Sydney Padua in her book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage.

Charles Babbage would go on to tell Ada about his "Difference Machine", a tower of wheels that could make calculations with the turn of a handle, a precursor to his "Analytical Engine"(the first computer). They would correspond about mathematics for 17 years.  When the paper about what in essence was the world's first computer had to be written, Babbage engaged mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea (who used 8,000 words), but it was Ada Lovelace's translation into French with her seven footnotes (annotations) that amounted to 65 pages that would make the impact on the scientific community.

First Computer Programme

The notes of the Countess of Lovelace extend to about three times (20,000 words) the length of the original memoir. Their author has entered fully into almost all the very difficult and abstract questions connected with the subject,”  Babbage wrote.  And indeed in her footnotes she had written with amazing clarity how Babbage's device would work, using Jacquard's silk weaving machine that could create images using a chain of punched cards, to explain how Babbage's Analytical Engine could similarly weave algebraic patterns.


Ava Lovelace, to make the engine's functions clear, wrote in the footnotes (Note G as it is known), setting out in detail how the punched cards would produce Bernoulli numbers, a sequence of rational numbers which occur frequently in number theory.

Bernoulli numbers ada Lovelace first computer program world
Unfortunately, less than 10 years later (1852) Ada Lovelace (later on Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace) would die of cancer at the young age of 36, the same age as her father who died while fighting for Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1824.

Father and daughter never knew each other since Lord Byron left four months after she was born.  Nevertheless, she fought for his memory despite her mother's wishes for her to stay out of poetry, calling her work, "a poetical science," advocating that Babbage's analytical machine would do much more than calculations and number-crunching in the future.

Talk about being able to see the future!