A documentary about the world’s first computers just arrived in the mail! I’m excited to tell you about Top Secret Rosies, which was produced and directed by LeAnn Erickson and America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
To set the stage speed dating style, two guys, Eckert and Mauchly met in 1941. They later worked on a machine called the ENIAC which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the United States government during WWII.
This collaboration was much like the joint effort between Harvard University, IBM, and the US Navy that was behind Aiken’s Mark series of computers. Aiken began his endeavour at Harvard in 1937. (photo: Mark I detail)
It was later, in the 1950’s, that Kenneth E. Iverson went to work with Aiken at Harvard and came up with the ideas behind our APL Array Programmning Language family.
As with all human innovations, advances in computer technology developed concurrently. Many breakthroughs were made in the United States, primarily driven by the “Try Anything” WWII war time attitude of the government. (A catchy phase, coined by Erickson, in her film. You really should watch it!).
As it turns out, however, the real first computers were women who did ballistic calculations to support the war effort. Erickson found four of them still living in the Philadelphia area, close to where she lives.
Philadelphia! That’s where IBM moved us in the 1970’s.
Erickson does a great job of drawing out the personal histories of these four woman as their careers unfold against the drama of WWII. As Erickson effectively points out, not only were these women the world’s first computers, but they were later recruited to work on the ENIAC, as the first computer programmers. Not too many people remember that our field was actually started by women.
It’s not difficult to draw an analogy between Erickson’s WWII story line and the APL Array Programming Language connection with the rise of international financial markets, and of course, the drama of subsequent market crashes. I’ll be studying this excellent film very closely.
By the way, I gleaned dates and my attitude toward first computers from The first Computers: History And Architecture
AND YOU CAN See the Film in Philadelphia!
Date/Time: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 – 6:30pm
Temple Performing Arts Center (formerly known as the Baptist Temple)
1837 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA
The event is free and open to the public but ticket reservations are required.
To make free reservations, call (215)204-8660 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Date/Time: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 – 7:30pm
Bryn Mawr Film Institute
824 W. Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr PA, 610.527.9898
The event is free and open to the public. Tickets will be available at the door.