I’d like to welcome to the blog Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist. Admiral, thank you for being with us today.
You’re very welcome, but you know you’re not talking to me any more than you were talking to President Truman a few weeks back, aren’t you?
Yes, ma’am, I know that, but I am going to be using your exact words. Among lots of other accomplishments, you’re credited with popularizing the term “bug” to refer to a computer problem. Can you tell us how that came about?
I had to remove a 2-inch-long moth from the Harvard Mark II experimental computer at Harvard in 1947 that was stopping it from running. From then on, whenever anything went wrong with a computer, we said that it had bugs in it.
What did you do when you had to demonstrate how far electricity could travel in a billionth of a second?
In total desperation, I called over to the engineering building, and I said, “Please cut off a nanosecond and send it over to me.”
What do you think of your nickname, “Amazing Grace?”
I’ve received many honors and I’m grateful for them; but I’ve already received the highest award I’ll ever receive, and that has been the privilege and honor of serving very proudly in the United States Navy.
What do you think about change?
Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.
Tell us about the Harvard Mark 1, the world’s first large-scale digital computer.
It was 51 feet long, eight feet high, eight feet deep. And it had 72 words of storage and could perform three additions a second.
What do you think about building bigger computers?
In pioneer days they used oxen for heavy pulling, and when one ox couldn’t budge a log, they didn’t try to grow a larger ox. We shouldn’t be trying for bigger computers, but for more systems of computers.
What do you think about management?
You manage things, you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership. It might help if we ran the MBAs out of Washington.
What won’t computers ever do?
A human must turn information into intelligence or knowledge. We’ve tended to forget that no computer will ever ask a new question.
What’s the most damaging phrase in the language?
The most damaging thing we can say is “It’s always been done that way.” I am now going to make you a gift that will stay with you the rest of your life. For the rest of your life, every time you say, “We’ve always done it that way,” my ghost will appear and haunt you for twenty-four hours.
Thanks much, Admiral. Can you offer some advice to new recruits in boot camp?
There’s something you learn in your first boot-camp, or training camp: If they put you down somewhere with nothing to do, go to sleep — you don’t know when you’ll get any more.
Admiral Hopper, thank you so much for being with us. Anything else you want to tell us?
One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.