Ada Lovelace: Computing Pioneer and Technical Translator

Today is Ada Lovelace Day! Observed on the second Tuesday of every October, Ada Lovelace day celebrates the achievements of women in science and technology.

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. Raised solely by her mother, Ada was given a strong education with a heavy emphasis on logic, science, and mathematics.

Lovelace pursued a number of scientific interests, including phrenology and bird flight. In 1833, when Lovelace was just 18 years old, she was introduced to Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, who was impressed by Lovelace’s analytical skills. By that time, Babbage, who was 23 years older than her, had already spent 10 years developing his difference engine, a machine that uses finite differences to perform a series of calculations.

Over the next several years, Lovelace and Babbage corresponded over Babbage’s subsequent invention, the analytical engine, which could perform general computations using instructions fed into the machine via punched cards.

In 1840, Babbage presented his invention during a seminar at the University of Turin, in Italy. In attendance was young Luigi Menabrea, who would become Prime Minister of Italy decades later. Menabrea took detailed notes on Babbage’s presentation, and in 1842, he published Notions sur la machine analytique de M. Charles Babbage, in French, describing the machine.

Umm… But this is in French. Translation please?

This is my favorite part of the story…. Ada Lovelace was a technical translator.

At least, that was her springboard for leaving a lasting contribution in the history of computing.

Lovelace spent nearly a year translating Menabrea’s publication from French into English. In addition to the translation itself, she added extensive annotations to further explain Babbage’s machine, based on her direct expertise. These annotations include an algorithm that is often credited as being the first computer program.

For this reason, Ada Lovelace is often credited with being the first computer programmer.

But I relate to her MUCH more when I think of her as an early French to English translator, specializing in technology. 🙂