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How aVictorian woman began the computer age.

Byline: Mike Kelly Reporter

ANEW book has been written about the extraordinary life of a 19th century woman with North East roots who many claim was the first computer programmer.

In her day some described Ada Lovelace as "The Enchantress of Numbers" and the "Princess of Parallelograms" because of her work for mathematician and philosopher Charles Babbage.

Yet others claimed her abilities were overstated which, after long hours researching his subject, author James Essinger wants to put right in his book.

He said: "It's about time people really understood Ada's amazing contribution to the history of science."

Ada was the daughter of Anne Isabella Milbanke, from County Durham, and the legendary Romantic poet Lord Byron.

It was on a visit to the Milbanke family home of Seaham Hall in County Durham, that Byron proposed and they married in January 1815.

That December Anne gave birth to Ada but the couple split the following month and Ada never saw her father again.

In later years she became a well-known figure in court, counting among her acquaintances Charles Dickens, the inventor Michael Faraday and, most importantly, Babbage.

Lord > He had been working on a machine called The Analytical Engine which was to become the first fully automated calculating machine.

In 1843 Ada was asked by Babbage to translate a description of the engine written in French by an acquaintance of his, an Italian mathematician called Luigi Menabrea.

Charles > Not only did she do this but she added many notes of her own.

They included a way to calculate Bernoulli numbers (a mathematical sequence of numbers) using the machine.

It was to become known as the Bernoulli Program.

By breaking down the calculation into steps, then writing them out and describing how the machine would perform those steps, she was doing what modern day computer programmer do.

As a result, her supporters say hers was the first computer programme ever published - the US Department of Defense named its computer language "Ada" in 1980 in her honour.

She also had a vision of Babbage's machine being able to do much more than just calculus, saying it could create music and graphics.

Despite her contribution, at the time her efforts were denigrated by scientists of the day.

Mr Essinger said: "They thought she was a nutcase who just got in Charles Babbage's way. It was a very male thing."

The story was to have a sad end.

Babbage was to spurn Ada's offers of help with the machine.

Babbage "He tried to do it himself and got nowhere," he added.

Ada, who married at 19 and had three children, amassed considerable gambling debts before dying in 1852, like her father Lord Byron, at the age of 36, she from ovarian cancer.

It was the suggestion that Ada was "overrated" which first got Mr Essinger interested in her as a subject for a book.

"Her notes are the basis for the case - the unanswerable case - that Ada had insights into the computer that nobody else had. She saw Babbage's machine as an exciting thing, that it could do anything."

A Female Genius. How Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, started the computer age, costs PS14.99. It will be published on October 15 on International Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates the contribution of women to science.


Ada Lovelace, the 'Enchantress of Numbers', as she was known in her day

James Essinger

Lord Byron

Charles Babbage
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 9, 2013
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