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Today is Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, in celebration of the person many recognise as the first computer programmer following her partnership with famed tinkerer Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine.

The child of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke - and the poet's only legitimate child - Augusta Ada King née Byron was born on the 10th of December 1815, While that's not an era well known for its computing technologies, it saw the Charles Babbage design his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine - recognised as mechanical precursors to today's computers.

Having had an interest in mathematics from a young age, Lovelace become entranced by Babbage's work - to the point where she translated an article by the noted Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea on the subject, adding a series of notes of her own - including what is generally believed to be the first ever computer program.

Taking the form of an algorithm encoded for processing on Babbage's machine, Lovelace's early program was hardly complex. At the time, however, Babbage and his contemporaries were concentrating mainly on the uses of what would become computers for mass calculation - but Lovelace saw the potential for the completion of other tasks.

Sadly, Lovelace would die on the 27th of November 1852 with her dreams unrealised: complexities in the design and the relatively crude manufacturing technologies of the day meant that the Analytical Engine would never be constructed. Plans are afoot by a team of enthusiasts to correct this, however, and Babbage's original designs are being digitised in the hopes of creating an Analytical Engine on which Lovelace's program could be run.

For many, Lovelace represents the first 'hacker' - someone so interesting in computing that they are willing to study all available information and write programs with pen and paper, even without any access to a machine on which it could run. She also represents a key figure for those championing equality in computing, along with Admiral Grace Hopper who is credited with the coining of the term 'bug' after discovering that a system crash was caused by a moth finding its way into a sensitive component.

The programming language Ada, created as a US Department of Defence project, is named for Lovelace, while the standard describing the language is coded MIL-STD-1815 for the year of her birth. The British Computing Society awards a medal in her name, and has recently opened a competition for women in computer science held annually.

While some argue that Lovelace's notes were helped along by Babbage himself - including the algorithm for the calculation of Bernoulli numbers for which she is most famous, but which Babbage claimed in his memoirs to have written himself, saying it was merely corrected by Lovelace following her detection of 'a grave error' - there's no denying that she was at the forefront of what would become a global technological revolution unlike anything the world had seen before.