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Who was Ada Lovelace?

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Today, 13th October 2020, is Ada Lovelace Day. But who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. This may seem bizarre since she died in 1852, years before the first computer was even invented; what Lovelace did was write computer programs for an early computing machine that existed only on paper. 

In 1833, Lovelace met and became friends with Charles Babbage. Babbage was an inventor and mechanical engineer. He had plans for a complicated device called the ‘Analytical Engine’, which Lovelace took great interest in. The Analytical Engine has been described as the first general purpose computer, which used punch cards for input and output. 

Lovelace studied the plans and wrote comments about how the Analytical Machine could work. Her comments have been described as early computer programs; she described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers, and she created a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions (a process known as 'looping', which computer programmes still use today!). 

Lovelace’s comments were published in 1843, but it wasn’t until much later that her comments and Babbage’s Analytical Engine became a reality. Inspired by Lovelace's notes, Alan Turing created the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Lovelace’s contributions to science and technology are remembered every year on the second Tuesday of October, Ada Lovelace Day. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of all women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), to increase their profile in this industry where they are still underrepresented, and to create new role models for young women.

You can follow the Ada Lovelace Day celebrations on social media with the hashtag #ALD20.

Image: Alfred Edward Chalon / Public domain