Ten things you (probably) didn’t know about Ada Lovelace

Today it’s Ada Lovelace Day, when we celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.


Start Ada Lovelace Day with this poetry generator Scratch project from Code Club.

Once you’ve done that, have a little ponder. A quick poll of Pi Towers revealed that while we think we all know all about Ada Lovelace herself, the sum of knowledge of most of us appears to be “Um…First computer programmer. Analytical engine. Yeah?”

We’ve made a list of Ada Lovelace Facts to fill in your blanks.

  1. Although she was Lord Byron’s (yes, that Lord Byron) daughter, Ada Lovelace had no relationship with him. He left her and Lady Byron to go and pursue an actress before little Ada was a month old, and she never saw him again – he died when she was eight years old.Ada Lovelace
  2. Lady Byron herself was no slouch when it came to what we now call STEM. She was particularly interested in astronomy and mathematics: Byron called her his “Princess of Parallelograms”.
  3. Lady Byron was worried that some of Lord Byron’s famously lascivious behaviour might rub off on her little daughter, so she made the decision to build a maths and science curriculum for Ada to follow from the age of 4 to distract her from more worldly concerns – vanishingly unusual for a 19th century English noblewoman.miniature_of_ada_byron
  4. At the age of 17, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, and saw a demo of a model portion of his proposed Difference Engine. Her work with the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine (neither the Difference Engine nor the Analytical Engine was ever built in Babbage’s or Lovelace’s lifetimes) are what we primarily remember her for.
  5. Ada also had an important female mentor: Mary Somerville, a Scottish mathematician and astronomer, who, elected at the same time as Caroline Herschel, was one of the first two women to be made a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
  6. When she was 28, Ada Lovelace translated an Italian paper on Babbage’s Analytical Engine into English – and added enough original material to it to increase its length three times over. Her additions to that paper showed how Babbage’s Analytical Engine could be coded to calculate Bernoulli numbers: the first machine algorithm, and the first computer program.1210-ada-lovelace-charles-babbage
  7. Ada Lovelace was a musician as well as a scientist, and worked on musical compositions based on numbers, an application which she intended for the Analytical Engine.
  8. Lovelace came up with a method for the Analytical Engine to repeat a series of instructions: the first documented loop in computing.
  9. She attempted to use her mathematical and analytical skills to give her the upper hand in gambling, particularly on horses. It wasn’t a great success, despite the development of complicated mathematical schemes: she had to pawn the family jewels, and on one occasion lost a staggering £3,200 on one horse race.ada-lovelace2
  10. After her death, Ada Lovelace’s contributions to science were forgotten – until 1953, when her notes were published by B.V. in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. Since then she’s had a programming language (Ada) named after her, many books written about her – and we celebrate her, and other women in STEM, every year.



Richard avatar

11. And has had probably the most oddest films made about her…

Alex Bate avatar

What did I just watch?!

Fester Bestertester avatar

What media? Anything you could share ed2k? I found a low-quality German-subtitled one – gad, how I hate subtitles, I’m always trying to learn from them while listening … gave up from the stress :(

fnord avatar

Featuring not only Tilda Swinton, but also Timothy Leary(!) and John Perry Barlow(!!).

Ada, LSD and the EFF, what a glorious mix.. o_O

kventin avatar

in another world:
Ada Byron, the daughter of the Prime Minister. Lady Ada Byron, the Queen of Engines.
[ Gibson, William and Sterling, Bruce. The Difference Engine. London: Victor Gollancz, 1990. ]

AndrewS avatar

It’s no longer available for free on iPlayer, but this was a great documentary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p030s5bx

Gavin Greig avatar

More about Ada Lovelace here:

The comic’s a work of imagination but there are lots of factual footnotes.

Liz Upton avatar

We LOVE Sydney Padua. I should have made a mention in the blog post – thanks for the link!

Dougie Lawson avatar

I’m still puzzled why today is Ada Lovelace Day when it’s neither the anniversary of her birth nor her death.

Liz Upton avatar

The good folks at Finding Ada say:

People often ask why Ada Lovelace Day is the day that it is. The explanation is rather mundane: the date is arbitrary, chosen in an attempt to make the day maximally convenient for the most number of people. We have tried to avoid major public holidays, school holidays, exam season, and times of the year when people might be hibernating. So, we use the second Tuesday in October, which is 11 October 2016.

Why not just used Ada’s birthday? Well, Ada was born on 10 December and, in the UK where Ada Lovelace Day is based, December is swamped by Christmas parties, making venue hire tricky and putting us in competition with traditionally unmissable employee booze-ups. Given her tragically early death at just 36, it would feel inappropriate to celebrate her deathday on 27 November.

Daniel Estrada avatar

> After her death, Ada Lovelace’s contributions to science were forgotten – until 1953, when her notes were published by B.V. in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines.

// That’s not true! Alan Turing refers to Lovelace’s notes with Babbage in his famous “Turing Test” article, Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950), three years prior!

Turing attributes to Lovelace the argument that “the machine can only do what we tell it to do”. He even quotes her directly: “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform.”


A chapter of my dissertation looks at Turing’s response to Lovelace in detail. I argue that Lovelace’s objection is central to the contemporary debate over autonomous machines. Ada Lovelace was a true visionary!


Mike Murray avatar

I knew about her because one of the tunnel boring machines, used to dig the crosslink underground in London, was named after her. She’s featured in my novel (about dark matter, Einstein, Tesla and Churchill!) called Regalion (amazon kindle ).

Nick Young avatar

A fascinating source of information is from Stephen Wolfram who has researched Ada’s history including personal visits to most of the key locations in her life.
Great blog here: http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2015/12/untangling-the-tale-of-ada-lovelace/

Bill Robinson avatar

Lovelace was the very first “computational thinker” (as we might conceive of it today) and her writing pre-dates Jeanette Wing’s advocacy of the value of “Computational Thinking” by some 250 years:

“In enabling mechanism to combine together general symbols, in successions of unlimited variety and extent, a uniting link is established between the operations of matter and the abstract mental processes of the most abstract branch of mathematical science…. Very valuable practical results would be developed by the extended powers of the Analytical Engine, some of which would be brought forth by the daily increasing requirements of science and by a more intimate practical acquaintance with the powers of the engine, were it in actual existence”
(Lovelace, 1843)

Jeremy avatar

it’s a good thing she wasn’t responsible for that “250 years” calculation or it may not have done her reputation any favours ;)

sallie tierney avatar

#1 isn’t quite accurate. Byron didn’t leave his wife – she left him, taking Ada, in part due to suspicions that Byron committed incest with his half-sister. He didn’t go to the continent chasing an actress. He was pretty much run out of town by scandal and creditors. Lady Byron didn’t allow Ada contact with her father but when she died, Ada was entombed with her father.

MalMan35 avatar

Very interesting! Something really awesome is that someone made a LEGO model of the Analytical Engine and it also serves as a case for the Raspberry Pi! They posted it on LEGO Ideas which is a site where LEGO fans models can become an actual set if they reach 10,000 supporters and pass the review stage. It has already reached 10,000 supporters and now it is in the review stage! I just hope it gets approved. Here is the link. https://ideas.lego.com/projects/102740

Andri Basuseto avatar

and she is the new Lady Ada. haaa…..

Il avatar

Isn’t a Turing Machine a loop? So would that make it the first loop?

Think Through Math avatar

Thanks for sharing Ada to the world! She was truly ahead of her time and one of the first STEM thinkers.

carboncor asphalt avatar

I love Sydney Padua

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