It may surprise you to know that the world's first computer programmer did not actually own a computer. In fact, she lived and died almost a century before the first computer was even built. The first person to write a computer program was none other than Ada, Countess of Lovelace, a remarkable mathematician and writer who also happened to be the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron.
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While the world is only just getting used to the idea of Google's driverless cars being on the roads around us, not many know that autonomous cars were driving around all the way back in 1986. This was thanks to one pioneering German man with a vision for giving the gift of sight to computers -- Ernst Dickmanns.
There are a number of names that most people associate with the momentous 1969 Moon landing -- Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, even Stanley Kubrick for dedicated conspiracy theorists -- but Margaret Hamilton is not usually among them. Yet this pioneering woman was the lead developer for Apollo's flight software in the days when working mothers were rare -- let alone female computer scientists.
The American computer pioneer often known simply as "Lick" imagined many of the concepts that are now core to the way we use and interact with technology. He provided both ideas and funding for graphical computing, point-and-click interfaces, digital libraries and banking or shopping online. From IBM to the US military's advanced research agency (DARPA) and MIT, his vision in the 1960s ultimately inspired the Internet and even parts of Unix. Here's what you may not know about J.C.R Licklider, pioneer of cybernetics, psychoacoustics and artificial intelligence.
Robots have been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. Da Vinci drew up plans for one amongst his many fantastical inventions, and Nikola Tesla designed the first radio-controlled contraption. One day, robots will take our jobs -- at least the ones that are able to be automated -- and it was a robot called Unimate back in 1956 that first started this trend. The Unimate was one of the creations of inventor and serial entrepreneur George Devol -- a man who thought the world was ready for something new.
Why is a mouse called a mouse? For that matter, who came up with the idea of a computer mouse -- the idea may seem like common sense these days, but it would have taken a creative mind to come up with the initial concept. Meet early computer engineer, Douglas Engelbart, for whom his famous mouse was only a tiny part of a grander plan to revolutionise the world through modern technology.
Grace Hopper, or "Amazing Grace" as she was sometimes known, was a formidable woman. Not only is she one of the few people to have a U.S. Navy destroyer warship and a supercomputer named after her, she was also a Rear Admiral and a pioneering computer scientist. Hopper invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and is also credited with coining the phrase 'debugging' in the computer world.
Hedy Lamarr's story is not an uncommon one in the glamourous and tumultuous world of Hollywood's golden age. Called "the most beautiful woman in Europe", the Austrian woman filmed a controversial sex scene in Germany in 1933, ran away from her husband to move to Paris, and signed a contract with MGM head Louis B. Mayer himself. Alongside her acting career, Hedy Lamarr alleviated her growing boredom as an inventor. In 1942 she patented something called a 'frequency-hopping spread spectrum' -- the precursor to modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.
In the spirit of Lifehacker's evil week, this week's profile focuses on a programmer who -- while not actually evil in any sense of the word -- operated on the wrong side of the law more often than not. Notable both for being an iconic figure in the hacking community and for working with Apple's Steve Wozniak in the early days of Apple, meet John Draper -- computer programmer and phone phreak extraordinaire.
Until the late 20th century, a 'computer' was not a machine like the one you may be reading this on now, but a job title -- literally, someone who makes computations. This term can be found all the way back to the 17th century, but one of the most important eras for the human computer occurred during World War II.
With a depletion in the male workforce, it follows that a large majority of these human computers -- largely tasked with calculating bullet and missile trajectories -- were women. Six of these women then went on to become the programmers of the ENIAC, the world's first computing machine; their names were Kay McNulty, Betty Holberton, Marlyn Meltzer, Ruth Teitelbaum, Jean Bartik, and Fran Spence.
Turing. Even if you don't know the man, you've heard the name. There's the Turing Machine: a mathematical model that defined early computing and modern day programming, and the more well-known Turing Test, an early definition of artificial intelligence. Most people with any interest in computing or robotics will have heard of the name Turing, but how many know the story of the man behind it all?