Previous: Why Don't We Eat Pop-Quinoa?
Next: Why There's a Straight Line Through Scotland



View count:130,417
Last sync:2022-11-29 12:15
It's taken the work of many programmers to turn computers into something we carry in our pockets, and here are five (technically 10!) that we think you should be aware of.

Hosted by: Rose Bear Don't Walk

SciShow has a spinoff podcast! It's called SciShow Tangents. Check it out at
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:
Huge thanks go to the following Patreon supporters for helping us keep SciShow free for everyone forever:

Chris Peters, Matt Curls, Kevin Bealer, Jeffrey Mckishen, Jacob, Christopher R Boucher, Nazara, charles george, Christoph Schwanke, Ash, Silas Emrys, KatieMarie Magnone, Eric Jensen, Adam Brainard, Piya Shedden, Alex Hackman, James Knight, GrowingViolet, Drew Hart, Sam Lutfi, Alisa Sherbow, Jason A Saslow

Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?

[♪ INTRO].

It’s taken the work of many insightful and ingenious computer programmers to take computing from a pie-in-the-sky idea… to something many of us carry in our pockets every day. And while some programmers have become famous for their contributions, many others have been mostly lost to history.

Without further ado, here are five amazing computer programmers you might not have heard of that changed the face of tech as we know it. Okay, okay… so the first person on our list is technically a group. Each of the members made significant contributions to programming on their own, but together these pioneers revolutionized computing technology.

They were responsible for programming the very first general-purpose electronic computer, called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer… or ENIAC for short. ENIAC was designed to calculate ballistic trajectories during. World War II so that artillery could hit their targets.

But what made ENIAC different from other computers that came before was that it was fully electronic and programmable. That meant ENIAC was not only faster and more powerful, but it could also be “reprogrammed” to do new calculations. Frances (Betty) Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer,.

Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum,. Frances Bilas Spence, and Jean Jennings Bartik were the human computers selected to program ENIAC. And while being a human-computer sounds super futuristic and high tech, the job of human computers was to calculate math by hand, like analytic geometry, differential equations, and calculus, for the engineers running the project.

Because they were such amazing computers, these six mathematicians were hand-picked to become ENIAC’s programmers… which meant they had to program the computer for each new set of calculations. But ENIAC was the first of its kind… which meant it didn’t come with a programming manual. And ENIAC was also massive.

It weighed 30 tons, and it was made up of nearly 18,000 vacuum tubes and more than 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, 6,000 switches, and 1,500 relays. It’s not super surprising, then, that it would take days and sometimes even weeks for the team to set up a program! To run a single program, the ENIAC programmers had to connect thousands of wires into plugboards to perform calculations in precisely the correct order.

Most of these programs used techniques we recognize today, like conditional branching with if/else statements: where the computer runs different parts of a program depending on the solutions it generates in other parts. It also used loops, which are sections of code that run on repeat until a predetermined condition is reached. While these days you can just write a set of instructions for the computer to execute, programming ENIAC involved a lot of advanced math, navigating a whole mess of cables and wires, and setting thousands of switches by hand!

Once programmed, ENIAC could perform 5,000 additions and 300 multiplications per second, which was up to 1000 times faster than the mechanical computers or calculators that existed at the time. The work that the “ENIAC Six” did set the foundation for modern computing, and it proved that high-speed digital computing could be done. The “ENIAC Six also indirectly paved the way for Dr.

Kathleen Britten Booth, who is widely credited with writing the first computer assembly language. Booth earned a Ph. D. in Applied Mathematics from the University of London in 1950 and went on to become a professor of mathematics.

She was working at a time when computers weren’t capable of storing programs internally. Like the ENIAC programmers, Booth was all too familiar with the tedious process of moving a bunch of cables and switches around to make a program run properly. Working with clunky hardware motivated Booth to develop software, which was a new concept at the time.

With the goal of making programming much easier, Booth wrote one of the first assembly languages for the Automatic Relay Computer, or ARC, for Birkbeck University of London in 1947. Booth’s ARC assembly language let programmers write instructions that an assembler would translate line by line into machine code, the sequences of binary digits, ones and zeroes that the computer can understand. While her original version more closely resembled mathematics, later versions of assembly language introduced a mnemonic format of symbols and abbreviations.

So, Assembly languages are one step above machine language, designed to be readable by humans and correspond directly to machine code. Her assembly language made programming more efficient and laid the groundwork for high-level programming languages. which made it possible to create modern operating systems like Windows or Linux. But Booth didn’t stop with the ARC.

Over the course of just six years, Britten Booth and her partner Andrew Booth produced three functioning computers, including ARC with Britten Booth writing all of the software. Booth was an excellent programmer, but she also used computer science to solve other challenges in the world. For instance, she and her partner created a program that produced a natural language translation, analyzing and breaking down text into fundamental components and building dictionaries on a computer.

This is considered a crucial stepping stone to machine translation, which explores different ways of using software to translate text from one human language to another, like from French to English. In other words, it was kind of a precursor to the translation software we have today! In fact, natural language processing became one of Booth’s lifelong interests, along with artificial intelligence.

While Booth led the way on major computing breakthroughs during her career, her love for programming and technology was a constant throughout her life. Booth never stopped learning and applying her knowledge to make computer science more useful for everyday people. And that more accessible technology is exactly what Mary Allen Wilkes, the next programmer on our list, would use to create the software for the world’s first interactive personal computer.

Wilkes was working in MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in the early 1960s when she was tapped to create the software for the Laboratory Instrument Computer, or LINC for short. Before LINC, computers were big, expensive machines that used punch cards to run programs. And there was no such thing as a free computer lab at the time, either.

An hour of computing time cost about $100 in 1960… or about $900 today. LINC, on the other hand, was intended to be a smaller computer that would allow the user to type in a program on a keyboard… then get near-instant feedback on a monitor. That made LINC the world’s first interactive personal computer, and it was.

Mary Allen Wilkes’ job to write the software that would make it easier to use. So for instance, Wilkes’ software, named the LAP6, was written for users, not computer professionals. It included a text editor, a filing system, and a code assembler.

Users could create their own program or load a program from memory, which meant the LAP6 software served as both an assembler and an operating system, a program designed to run all the other programs and functions of the computer. Wilkes’ interactive operating system was one of the first of its kind, and it would set the stage for the modern operating systems that power everything from our laptops to our phones today. Dr.

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was also a computer scientist who developed cutting-edge software. Hopper used her Ph. D. in math to create software for the U.

S. Navy that made coding accessible to people who weren’t experts in mathematics. And one of her biggest achievements was creating one of the first working compilers, called the A-0, translating a high-level programming language like.

FORTRAN, which used mathematical symbols, into machine code. Hopper and her team then went on to create FLOW-MATIC the first programming language that could give instructions to a computer using English-like statements. Which is similar to the way modern high-level programming languages work.

Having the ability to program a computer using English commands was a big deal. It made programming more efficient and less error-prone and paved the way for the software that’s compatible with many types of hardware. But Hopper also had personal reasons for creating the FLOW-MATIC.

The military officials and businessmen she worked with didn’t have the bandwidth to learn all the complex rules of binary code… even though Hopper did try to teach them. Her FLOW-MATIC was the first language to give non-computer scientists a chance to learn how to program computers too. In fact, Hopper’s work in the private sector led to the development of the programming language COBOL, which stands for COmmon-Business-Oriented Language.

COBOL was loosely based on Hopper’s FLOW-MATIC and was overseen by a consortium of industry and U. S. government members to create a vendor-neutral interoperable programming language. COBOL was so useful that it became widely used by corporations and government services in the 1960s ... and is still in use today.

Hopper’s success writing FLOW-MATIC earned her the first-ever. Computer Science Man of the Year award from the. Data Processing Management Association.

Do I even need to say anything…? The final programmer on our list sort of became a programmer by accident. Frances Allen was trained as a math teacher, but got a job at IBM in the 1950s to pay off her student loans more quickly.

She planned to return to teaching once her debts were paid, but ended up enjoying programming so much she didn’t want to quit. So instead of teaching high school algebra, Allen spent her career teaching programmers to use cutting-edge software she created. And the software was pretty cool.

Allen developed optimizing compilers, which transform code to make the underlying hardware run more efficiently without changing the meaning of the program. Program optimization is designed to modify code in a way that improves its performance and efficiency while consuming fewer resources, like memory and power. Allen developed a powerful set of compilers for the.

IBM Stretch-HARVEST supercomputer, which ran 25 times faster than the average 1960s computer. Allen’s work on the Stretch-HARVEST produced a machine and language-independent compiler that created a new framework and powerful set of algorithms for analyzing and optimizing programs. This was a big deal because it meant using a single compiler to analyze multiple programming language inputs, instead of having a specific compiler designed for each language.

It could also output to multiple machines. In this case, one compiler for three input languages that output to both Stretch and Harvest. As a result of her work, Allen was the first woman to become an IBM Fellow and to win a Turing Award for outstanding contributions in computer science.

Perhaps more importantly: many of the techniques that Allen pioneered are still in use today to make our computers run smoothly. Even though those programmers may not be all that well known, their trailblazing work is why you’re able to watch this video today. Celebrating their achievements in programming is one of the best ways that we can say “thank you” for all of their hard work.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, which was brought to you by these hardworking programmers, and by our patrons. If you’d like to get involved and help bring SciShow to the whole Internet, you can get started at [♪ OUTRO].