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Her-Story, Then: Ada Byron Lovelace

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Kate Mulgrew: When mum is the princess of parallelograms and dad is the century's raciest poet, how is a girl to calculate her future?

Ada Augusta Byron thought she could count on a computer. But she was a woman ahead of her time. I am Kate Mulgrew with her story.

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Ada Augusta Byron never knew her famous father. Her mother, Anne Milbank divorced poet Lord Byron in 1860, when Ada was just a month old. The party was unpleasant and Milbank did everything she could to make certain young Ada would be nothing like her father. Any interest in poetry was flatly discouraged. Instead Milbank insisted her daughter pursue mathematics. Milbank own early fascination with math led Byron to dub her "the princess of parallelograms".

Young Ada spent her days among tutors. She became an accomplished mathematician and musician. It was at a dinner party, at the home of her tutors, that Ada Augusta Byron met Charles Babbage. The mathematician and inventor had designed the difference engine, a mechanical device to process complex mathematical problems. Ada was fascinated. She translated a paper on the invention, adding notes three times the length of the original.

Ada saw the possibility of what we know call software applications. She realized this technology could be applied to graphics, computer music, and artificial intelligence.

By this time Ada was married with three children, and was known as the Countess Lovelace. Her husband and mother made sure she could continue her work. Ada and Babbage spent years on the difference engines but it was never completed. The analytical engine conceptualized by Lady Byron and Charles Babbage was far too sophisticated to be built at the time, but it is considered a forerunner of the modern computer. In 1977 the United States Defense Department named its highest level universal computer program language, Ada, after Ada Augusta Byron, Lady Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer.

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Her story is made possible by the National Science Foundation.

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