Who Invented the World’s First Computer Program

Ada Lovelace – Mathematician, Innovator and Pioneer.

For a start, it wasn’t in the 1950s, or the 1940s, or the 1930s. Believe it or not, it wasn’t even in the 20th century. For this critically important development, which now dominates so many aspects of modern life, you have to time travel back as far as 1842. And, almost as remarkable… it was written by a woman.

Lord Byron’s Daughter

Introducing Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (or more simply, Ada Lovelace, as she is now widely known). This gifted mathematician was born in London in 1815, the only legitimate child of the English poet Lord Byron. Ada’s mother, Lady Byron, separated from Byron only five weeks after Ada was born and was given sole custody. Fearful that her daughter might grow up to become a poet like her father, Lady Byron steered Ada in the opposite direction of such intellectual (and traditionally masculine) pursuits as astronomy, botany and, most significantly, mathematics, for which Ada showed a particular flair. However, the legacy of her father survived in the form of the imaginative, poetic, and at times lyrical filter through which Ada processed her knowledge of mathematics.

The Difference Engine

When Ada was 18, she met mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage at a dinner party, a man who would have significant influence on her achievements. Babbage had just invented his “Difference Engine”, a mechanical device designed for the processing of complex mathematical equations. In 1842, Babbage asked Ada to translate the memoirs of Italian engineer Luigi, which she did by encoding an algorithm in a form that could be processed by the Difference Engine. This historic piece of calculus has since been recognized as the world’s very first computer program. Ada also correctly predicted that the machine could one day be used to complete such diverse tasks as composing music, generating graphics and processing words and numbers across a broad range of uses.

Modern Computer Archetype

But Ada’s innovative mind didn’t rest with this. She also worked with Babbage to create the “Analytical Engine”, which was an archetype of the modern day computer. Many of its primary features can be found in modern-day computer technology. The most significant of these is the principle of a set of encoded instructions, which is then carried out by a machine. Even the most technically illiterate person today would recognize that this is the basis of all computer programs.

Enchantress of Numbers

Babbage dubbed his protégé “The Enchantress of Numbers” and a software language developed by the U.S. Department of Defence in 1979 was named “Ada” in her honour. She was a woman truly ahead of her time in more ways than one. She not only displayed enormous strength of character by inhabiting the masculine world of mathematics against the expectations of society, but proving herself a pioneer in that world. Most significantly, she foresaw the potential of what we now call computers and programming, and all of this more than a century before they became widespread. Bill gates owes her a lot.

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