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.

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into a popular Internet search engine and came up with more than a million “hits.” Though this number pales in comparison with those for other twentiethcentury icons, say John F. Kennedy (11 million) or Elvis Presley (8 million), Hopper is unquestionably the most numerically popular computer pioneer on the Web.1 The top results are an assortment of adoring websites dedicated to “Amazing Grace” or “The Grandmother of Cobol” and numerous quotations from Hopper herself. An image search produces

receiving doctorates in mathematics during the 1920s and the early 1930s was not achieved again until the 1980s.2 This reminds us that the history of women’s emancipation in America has not been linear. Rather than steady progress, there have been waves of opportunity and retrenchment—for example, increasing opportunity in the 10 years after World War I, then retrenchment during the Depression. Hopper came of age during the 1920s, and both her public choices and her private ones coincided rather

order to learn more about large-scale calculating machines. He attended the Moore School lectures on large-scale calculating machines at the University of Pennsylvania, where he met John Mauchly and Howard Aiken. Mauchly gave Wilkes a tour of the ENIAC, and Aiken invited the British mathematician to the Harvard Computation Laboratory.67 THE HARVARD COMPUTATION LABORATORY 97 Inspired by the unique calculating machines he saw in Philadelphia and Boston, Wilkes returned to Cambridge determined

segments of code. “We would borrow from each other and copy them,” Hopper said. “When we copied them of course we had to change the address. They all started from zero and we had to add those addresses and then we also had to copy them into another program.”72 To facilitate the transfer of code segments into subsequent programs, Hopper and Bloch developed a system they called “relative coding.” The codes were relative because they were written in a general, abstract fashion that allowed them to

Ada King for the first time: “She wrote the first loop. I will never forget; none of us ever will.” Nor did people let Hopper forget the uncanny coincidence of history, casting Aiken in the role of Babbage and Hopper in the role of Lady Lovelace.43 THE BEGINNING OF A COMPUTING COMMUNITY 131 Commander Aiken and Lieutenant (j.g.) Hopper posing with a piece of Charles Babbage’s difference engine for the Christian Science Monitor, March 1946. Courtesy of Archives Center, National Museum of American

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