Innovation

Two Reasons to Remember Grace Hopper

Dec 10, 2013 • Economic Growth, Economic History, Gender gap, Government, Innovation, Labor, Macroeconomic Measurement, Tech • 203 Views    No Comments

Yesterday’s Google Doodle commemorated Grace Hopper (1906-1992) on the day that she would have been 107.

Like me, if you have been unfamiliar with the woman and her work, I suggest starting with this wonderful David Letterman interview.

Developing the first computers during the 1940s, Grace Hopper helped the Navy create tables for aiming artillery shells and bombs. Subsequently, during a career in the military, academia and in business that lasted into the 1980s, her innovative work ranged from designing programming languages that let computers understand English to identifying the first computer bug–a 2 inch moth in a 1945 Mark 1 computer. (The Mark 1 was 55 feet long, 8 feet high and weighed 5 tons.)

 

The Mark 1, a 1944 ancestor of the computer.

From: Wired. The Mark 1 could do multiplication in 3 to 5 seconds.

 

Grace Hopper described herself as a “boat rocker” who looked forward to saying on December 31, 1999, “See? We told you the computer could do all that.” Her most disliked sentence? ”Why, we’ve always done it that way.”

A final somewhat random but interesting note. This Google ngram displays the frequency that the word computer has been found in books between 1940 and 2008. You can see that the blue computer line ascends sharply after 1940 but then dips more recently.

 

Innovation Google ngram computer

From: Google ngram

Our bottom line? Reflected by a lifetime of innovation, Grace Hopper’s work and her personality are inspirational.

Sources and Resources: For more on Dr. Hopper’s life, I recommend the NY Times obituary and this Wired article. You also might watch the charming 1957 Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film, “Desk Set.” Providing us with a perfect example of Schumpeter’s creative destruction, the head of a TV research department (Hepburn) tries to answer questions faster than a computer when an efficiency expert (Tracy) is hired.

 

 

 

 

 

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