The Women Behind ENIAC – IEEE Spectrum

If you look at pictures of those working on the first all-purpose electronic programmable computer, you’d assume that…
J. Presper Eckert And the John W. Mowgli They are the only ones who had a hand in its development. Invented in 1945, and Electronic numerical integrated and computer ENIAC was built to improve the accuracy of American artillery during World War II. The two men and their team built the hardware. But hidden behind the scenes were six women –Jean BartekAnd the Kathleen AntonelliAnd the Marilyn MeltzerAnd the Betty HolbertonAnd the Frances SpenceAnd the Ruth Teitelbaum—who programmed the computer to calculate artillery trajectories in seconds.

U.S. military Women were recruited in 1942 to work on the so-called human computersMathematicians who performed calculations using a mechanical desktop calculator.

For decades, the six women were largely unknown. But thanks
Cathy Clement, one of the founders of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the world is learning about the contributions of ENIAC programmers to computer science. Clement’s book this year Proof: The untold story of the six women who programmed the world’s first modern computer has been published. It delves into the lives of the women and the pioneering work they did. The book is followed by an award-winning documentary, Computers: The Incredible Story of ENIAC Programmerswhich Clement helped produce. It premiered in 2014 Seattle International Film Festival It won Best Documentary Short Film in 2016 United Nations Film Festival.

Kleiman plans to give a presentation next year on programmers as part of the IEEE Industry Hub’s Impactful Speaker Series. The initiative aims to introduce industry professionals and academics to IEEE and its offerings.

Planning for the event, which is scheduled to take place in Silicon Valley, is well underway. Details will be announced before the end of the year.

Institute Speak to Kleiman, who teaches internet technology and governance to lawyers at the American University, in Washington, D.C., on its mission to publicize programmers’ contributions. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Photo of Kathy Kleiman and her book cover on the right.

Cathy Kleiman delves into the lives of ENIAC programmers and the pioneering work they did in her book Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer.Cathy Clement

What inspired you to shoot the documentary?

Cathy Clement: ENIAC was a secret project of the US Army during World War II. It was the first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer – key to the development of the smartphones, laptops and tablets we have today. The ENIAC was a very experimental computer, with 18,000 vacuum cleaners, and some of the leading technologists at the time didn’t think it would work, but it did.

Six months after the end of the war, the Army decided to disclose and widely publicize the existence of ENIAC. To do this, in February 1946, the military took a lot of beautiful official photos of the computer and the team of engineers that developed it. I found these photos while researching women in computer science as an undergraduate at
Harvard. At the time, I only knew two women in computer science: Ada Lovelace Then Captain in the US Navy. Grace Hopper. [Lovelace was the first computer programmer; Hopper co-developed COBOL, one of the earliest standardized computer languages.] But I was sure there were more female programmers throughout history, so I looked them up and found the screenshots from ENIAC.

The pictures fascinated me because they featured both men and women. Some of the images had only women in front of the computer, but their names were not mentioned in any of the image captions. She tracked them down after finding their identities, and four of ENIAC’s original six programmers responded. They were in their late 70s at the time, and over the course of many years they told me about their work during World War II and how they were recruited by the US Army to be “human computers”.

Eckert and Mauchly promised the US military that ENIAC could calculate artillery trajectories in seconds rather than the hours it would take to do the calculations manually. But after they built a computer that was 2.5 meters long and 24 meters long, they couldn’t get it to work. Of the approximately 100 human computers operating in the US Army during World War II, six women were chosen to write a program for the computer to run calculus equations. It was difficult because the program was complex, memory was very limited, and the direct programming interface that connected programmers to ENIAC was difficult to use. But the women succeeded. The track program has been a great success. But the contributions of Partick, McNulty, Meltzer, Snyder, Spence, and Teitelbaum to the technology are not recognized. The technologists and the public never knew about their work.

Their story inspired me and I wanted to share it. She raised funds, researched and recorded 20 hours of broadcast-quality oral stories with ENIAC programmers – which eventually became the documentary. It allows others to see the women tell their story.

“If we open the doors to history, I think it will make it much easier to recruit the wonderful people we are trying to get into engineering, computer science, and related fields.”

Why was the achievement of the six women significant?

Clement: Many consider ENIAC to have launched the information age.

We generally think of women leaving the factory and agricultural jobs they held during World War II and giving them back to men, but after ENIAC was completed, the six women continued to work in the US Army. Help world-class mathematicians program ENIAC to complete Hundred Years Problems [problems that would take 100 years to solve by hand]. They also helped teach the next generation of ENIAC programmers, and some of them went on to create the foundations for modern programming.

What prompted you to continue telling the story of the ENIAC programmers in your book?

Clement: After the documentary premiered at the film festival, young women from tech companies who were in the audience came to me to share why they were so excited to know the story of programmers. They were excited to learn that women were an integral part of the history of early computing software, and were inspired by their stories. Guys also came up to me and shared stories about their great-grandmothers and great-aunts who programmed computers in the 60’s and 70’s and inspired them to explore careers in computer science.

I’ve met more women and men like those in Seattle around the world, so it seemed like a good idea to tell the whole story with its historical context and background information about the lives of the ENIAC programmers, specifically what happened to them next. The computer is finished.

What did you find most rewarding about sharing their story?

Clement: It was great and rewarding to get to know the programmers of ENIAC. They were amazing, wonderful, warm, wonderful, and exceptional people. Talking to the people who created the programming was inspiring and helped me see that I can work with the latest technology as well. I got into Internet Law as one of the first lawyers in the field because of them.

What I enjoy most is that women’s experiences inspire young people today as much as they did me when I was an undergrad.

Collage of vintage photos of six women.Clockwise from top left: Jan Bartek, Kathleen Antonelli, Betty Holberton, Ruth Teitelbaum, Marilyn Meltzer, Frances Spence.Clockwise from top left: Bartek family; Bill Mowgli, Priscilla Holberton, The Teitelbaum Family, The Meltzer Family, The Spence Family

Is it important to highlight the contributions women have made throughout history in STEM fields?

Clement: [Actor] Geena Davis establish Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which works collaboratively with the entertainment industry to dramatically increase the presence of female characters in the media. It is based on the philosophy “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

This philosophy is right and wrong. I believe that you can be what you cannot see, and certainly every pioneer who has broken down a racial, ethnic, religious, or gender barrier has certainly done so. However, it is definitely easier to get into a field if there is a role model out there who looks like you. To this end, many computer scientists today are trying to diversify the field. However, I know from my work on Internet politics and my recent trips across the country for a writing tour that many students still feel powerless by outdated stereotypes in computing and engineering. By sharing powerful stories of pioneers in the fields of women and people of color, I hope we can open doors to computing and engineering. I hope that the history and its shared story will facilitate the recruitment of young people to join engineering, computer science and related fields.

Do you plan to write more books or make another documentary?

Clement: I would like to continue the story of the ENIAC programmers and write about what happened to them after the war ended. I hope my next book will delve into the 1950s and reveal more about its history Universal automatic computerthe first modern commercial computer series, and the diverse group of people who built and programmed it.

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