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Grace Hopper: The Math Genius who Taught Computers to Talk

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You might not know the name Grace Hopper even though it’s hard to imagine our lives without her work. Born in 1906 to a family of engineers, Grace was fascinated with the mechanics of objects from a young age. She was a no-nonsense dynamo, driven by guts and determination, so when the US entered World War II, Grace knew she had to join the war effort even though the military held few places for women. She nevertheless joined a team at Harvard that was hard at work on the Mark I, a calculating machine…or rather, the first large-scale automatic digital computer in the United States. It became Grace’s job to figure out how to program it. But Grace didn’t just program it, she taught humans to communicate with machines in a way that made every single computing leap since her time possible. 

COBOL—the first computer language—was Grace’s great invention; a leap of imagination that did not only help America win the war, but made the computer vastly more useful than it was originally intended to be.

Grace is the grandmama of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the technological leap that changed the world, and Jo discusses its legacy with Parisa Tabriz, a director of engineering at Google, and proud owner of a cat named Grace Hopper.  

Main Sources 

  1. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series) - by Kurt Beyer
  2. An Oral History of Captain Grace Hopper by the Computer History Museum - Interview conducted by: Angeline Pantages - Naval Data Automation Command, in Maryland in December of 1980
  3. A 60 Minutes segment entitled ‘The Captain is a Lady’ from March 6, 1983

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