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Ada Lovelace — The Mathematician, Her Mother & An Algorithm

I choose to celebrate Women’s History Month by remembering the “Enchantress of Number” and her greatest achievements

Ada Lovelace portrait

As part of this year’s exciting EY International Women’s Day activities, I named my inspirational mother as a role model. The founder of multiple businesses and a former Great British Bake Off contestant, she’s definitely where I get my entrepreneurial and can-do spirit. As Women’s History Month continues, I’d like to highlight another personal hero, one revered by many women in mathematics and technology, and by lots of women in general: Ada Lovelace, inventor of the algorithm.

Many success stories start with a talented parent. This is certainly true of both me and Ada Lovelace, daughter of “dramatically dark and morally fractured” poet Lord Byron. Though, as one apple who fell far from the paternal tree, Ada took after her mother — even if they didn’t get along so well. Despite this, and questionable taste in men, Lady Byron was quite the mathematician, earning her the nickname “Princess of Parallelograms.” And it was she who ushered her daughter in the same direction and beyond.

But Lovelace and I share more than just a leaf torn from the maternal book. Like me, who joined the male-dominated world of tech two decades ago, Ada didn’t remain in the shadows — exactly where 19th Century men liked to shepherd women. Instead, wielding great talents inherited from her mother, Ada followed in the footsteps of her own mentors, including Scottish scientist and polymath Mary Somerville — one of the first two women, alongside German astronomer Caroline Herschel, given membership to the Royal Astronomical Society.

It was actually Somerville who introduced Lovelace to the man whose proposed invention would soon allow her to subvert the patriarchy’s expectations: English mathematician and mechanical engineer Charles Babbage. After working on a simpler mechanical computer, Babbage designed the world’s first “Turing complete” general-purpose computer — called the Analytical Engine.

The Analytical Engine

While we shouldn’t focus too much on Charles — it is, at the end of the day, Women’s History Month — the “Father of Computers” does deserve significant recognition for appreciating Ada’s intellect and analytic skills and giving her the space to apply them in a male-dominated society. As I wrote this time last year, behind every great man is an even greater woman. Together, Lovelace and Babbage are a fine example of this.

She took his already ingenious idea and made it even better, underscoring its potential to move past mere calculations. A true visionary, known as the “Prophet of the Computer Age,” Ada saw what her male colleague couldn’t: that numbers and computers were capable of doing so much more than her contemporaries previously thought.

The Analytical Engine sadly never came to fruition, but that doesn’t matter here. Most important is the fact that Lovelace — who today lends her name to an advanced programming language — broke barriers few could or would. She shunned societal norms, developing high-level mathematical and technological skills, and she challenged assumptions, integrating the scientific and the creative — it turns out there was a little of Lord Byron in there after all.

Impressively, Ada achieved all this while battling frequent illness. Seriously, what a woman, and one who definitely deserves to have her own day (the 2nd Tuesday every October) on top of myriad WHM and IWD mentions.

Given that Lovelace published what many see as the first-ever computer algorithm, which was to be executed by the Analytical Engine, I absolutely couldn’t resist running her through a contemporary algorithm. How very meta! Here she is, brought to some shadow of life by MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia app.

Once brought to ‘life,’ it seems like this digital Ada is making eyes at us, the big flirt that she is. Babbage did sometimes call her the “Enchantress of Number,” so that makes total sense. Then something off to the side distracts our animated friend. Is it her other fans? Oops…the AI appears to have plucked a smart and accomplished woman from the corridors of history and transformed her into an attention-seeking diva — and using a program we might not even have today without her work. Sorry Ada!

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Catriona Campbell

Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com

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