Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series)

Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series)

Kurt W. Beyer

Language: English

Pages: 408

ISBN: 0262517264

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A Hollywood biopic about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (1906--1992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serve her country in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and finds herself on the front lines of the computer revolution. She works hard to succeed in the all-male computer industry, is almost brought down by personal problems but survives them, and ends her career as a celebrated elder stateswoman of computing, a heroine to thousands, hailed as the inventor of computer programming. Throughout Hopper's later years, the popular media told this simplified version of her life story. In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer reveals a more authentic Hopper, a vibrant and complex woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry. Both rebellious and collaborative, Hopper was influential in male-dominated military and business organizations at a time when women were encouraged to devote themselves to housework and childbearing. Hopper's greatest technical achievement was to create the tools that would allow humans to communicate with computers in terms other than ones and zeroes. This advance influenced all future programming and software design and laid the foundation for the development of user-friendly personal computers.



















third programmer of the world’s first computer. The Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, as the machine was officially called, was the brainchild of Lieutenant Commander Howard Aiken.27 Before the war, Aiken had been a physics graduate student at Harvard. While working on his dissertation, he had formulated plans for a distinctive mechanical arithmetic machine. The concept was supposedly born out of Aiken’s aggravation as he struggled through the calculations that supported his doctoral thesis

the tape multiple times, since each line of code could be executed only once. “No matter how clever the coding,” Bloch recalled, “it was not possible (without manual intervention) to arrange for embedded subroutines, or to skip certain lines of code, or to branch to another segment of the program.”74 Branching permits a computer to make a decision based on the result of intermediate output. That is, intermediate output A would initiate coding instruction X, whereas output B would precipitate

associated with programming were similar on the two sides of the Atlantic because the hardware was similar. Early pioneers in large-scale computing machines criss-crossed the Atlantic, attended joint conferences, and shared published and unpublished documents, the most 104 CHAPTER 4 famous being John von Neumann’s “First Draft.” Because of the similar hardware solutions, comparable programming problems arose as these machines became operational. The more difficult question that arises is why

only half the battle; getting people to use it instead of an alternative is the other half. “In my view,” said Jean Sammet in her welcoming remarks at the first ACM History of Programming Languages Conference in 1978, “Grace Hopper did more than any single 12 CHAPTER 1 individual to sell the concepts of the higher-level languages from both a technical and an administrative viewpoint.”15 That assertion was met with overwhelming applause. PRIMARY SOURCES Historians of computing are fortunate in

the Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation. Books in the series explore the work of inventors and the technologies they create in order to advance scholarship in history, engineering, science, and related fields that have a direct connection to technological invention, such as urban planning, architecture, and the arts. By opening channels of communication between the various disciplines and sectors of society concerned with technological innovation, the Lemelson Center Studies aim to

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