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Who invented the computer? Most of us immediately think of Steve jobs and Steve Woznick. Or perhaps even, Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, Konrad Zuse, or the IBM team of Bill Lowe, and Don Estridge in Boca Raton, Florida who, with a group of 12 strategists, worked around the clock to manufacture and promote of a computer Or perhaps you might think of the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient hand powered Greek analogue computer which has also been described as the first example of such a device, but we do not know who created it.

You may even think of William Oughtred who in 1622 invented the first computer, the abacus or its descendant, the slide rule.  The first computer resembling today's modern machines was actually the Analytical Engine, conceived and designed by British mathematician Charles Babbage between 1833 and 1871. Before that time, a "computer" was a person, someone whose job it was to crunch numbers all day, adding and subtracting numbers and entering the results into tables. These tables then appeared in books that people used to complete tasks, such as launching artillery shells accurately or calculating taxes.

We do, however, know who the first computer programmer was, a woman, Ada Lovelace (1815–1852), the daughter of poet Lord Byron. English mathematician Ada Lovelace, who has been called "the first computer programmer" for writing an algorithm for a computing machine in the mid-1800s.

Ada, born as Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815, was the only legitimate child of the famous poet (and cadLord George Gordon Byron. Lord Byron's marriage to Ada's mother, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron, was not happy and Lady Byron separated from her husband only weeks after their daughter was born. A few months later, Lord Byron left England, dying in Greece when Ada was 8 years old and Ada never saw her father again.

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Ada‘s upbringing was atypical for an aristocratic girl in the mid-1800s. Her mother insisted Ada’s tutors teach her mathematics and science. Taxing subjects like these were not the standard topics for women at the time. Ada’s mother hoped that engaging in these rigorous studies would prevent Ada from exhibiting her father's moody and unpredictable artistic temperament.

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From early on Ada showed a talent for numbers and language and received instruction from William Frend, a social reformer; William King, the family's doctor; and Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician, one of the first women to be admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society. 

When she was about age17, Ada met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor. They became friends, and the much older Babbage served as a mentor to Ada. With his tutoring she began studying advanced mathematics with University of London professor, Augustus de Morgan.

Ada was fascinated by Babbage's ideas and had a chance to look at the machine before it was finished, and was enthralled by it! Known as the father of the computer, Charles Babbage invented the difference engine, which was meant to perform mathematical calculations. Babbage also designed another device known as the analytical engine, designed to handle more complex calculations.

In 1835, Ada married William King, who became the Earl of Lovelace, taking the title of Countess of Lovelace and had three children together. Historical accounts indicate he was supportive of his wife's academic works. Ada and her husband associated with many of the academic minds of the time, including scientist Michael Faraday and writer Charles Dickens.

Eventually Ada was asked to translate an article on Babbage's analytical engine, written by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea for a Swiss journal. Not only did she translate his engineering text from the original French into English but added her own thoughts and ideas on the machine. Her notes were three times longer than the original article and was published in 1843, in an English science journal. Ada used only the initials "A.A.L.," for Augusta Ada Lovelace, in the publication. Probably because she would not have been considered seriously if it was known the author was a women, like Mary Anning, who had to publish her finds under a male contemporary’s name. 

In her notes, Ada expressed how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs still use today! For her work, Ada is often considered to be the first computer programmer.

Typically, Ada's article attracted little attention when she was alive. In her later years, she tried to develop mathematical schemes for winning at gambling and developed a gambling problem. Unfortunately, her schemes failed and put her in financial peril. She ultimately had to sell family jewels to pay for gambling debts.

Ada had lifelong health problems after a bout of cholera in 1837, with lingering problems with asthma and her digestive system. Doctors gave her painkillers, such as laudanum and opium, and sadly her personality began to change. She reportedly experienced mood swings and hallucinations. Because she introduced many computer concepts, Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer. Ada died from uterine cancer in London on November 27, 1852. She was buried next to her father, in the graveyard of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Nottingham, England.

Ada's contributions to the field of computer science were not discovered until the 1950s. Her notes were reintroduced to the world by B.V. Bowden, who republished them in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines in 1953. Ada has received many posthumous honors for her work. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named a newly developed computer language "Ada," after Lovelace.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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