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Ada Lovelace Tech Icon
03-11-2017
Ada Lovelace was an outstanding pioneer of computer science. Her portrait, some suggest, would be most appropriate to feature on a future British banknote.

Born in 1815, the year of Waterloo, Augusta Ada Byron was the only legitimate child of the famous, many would argue notorious, poet Lord Byron. However within a few weeks of the child's birth, in order to escape from her philandering husband, Ada's mother fled to her parents' home in Leicestershire.Ada never saw her father again. For the early years of her life she lived at Kirkby Mallory the home today of the famous racing circuit and fishery.

Her mother, Anabella, herself a gifted mathematician, encouraged her daughter to take a keen interest in science and mathematics. She insisted tutors engage the girl in meticulous study with the aim of preventing the manic behaviour and mood swings which afflicted her father.

Ada showed great talent in mathematics and languages and by the time she was seventeen met and became friends with the inventor, Charles Babbage, and helped develop 'the Analytical Engine' a kind of prototype computer. Babbage called her 'the enchantress of numbers' and Prince Albert himself took a keen interest in her work. As a talented mathematician she became the world's first computer programmer, or as some have suggested - the world's first de-bugger, having found an error in Babbage's calculations. Her translation and additions to an Italian article about Babbage's machine had vital consequences to Britain's war effort a century later. Indeed so valuable was her work that in the 1940's Professor Alan Turing was inspired by her notes in his work on the first modern computer, 'Colossus' at Bletchley Park and elsewhere.

Ada had a full life outside science. When she was twenty she married William King with whom she had three children. King was a wealthy landowner in West Leicestershire who became the first Earl of Lovelace. She also developed a peculiar interest in creating a mathematical gambling system which spectacularly failed and resulted in her husband bailing her out.

Ada Lovelace died from cancer at the tragically young age of 36. A monument to her memory can be found at the churchyard at Kirkby Mallory Church, although she was buried at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire, next to her father.

Every October an Ada Lovelace Day is held to commemorate the life and work of this extraordinary woman. A 'science cabaret' event is held in London, here in Leicestershire and across the country where a number of children are given special classes in science and computing in celebration of her life and work.

Roger Blackmore

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