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Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age

A new biography of the woman who came up with the notion of the computer bug has some flaws of its own

2 min read

In Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories for Little Children, an animal’s defining feature (a camel’s hump, for example) is made to seem as though it were the inevitable outcome of the animal’s origin (the hump was punishment for refusing to do a full day’s work). The lazy historian often succumbs to just-so history—a parade of inevitabilities that leads inexorably to today. Avoiding that temptation is a challenge for every biographer, as illustrated by Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age , Kurt Beyer’s frequently able account of computing pioneer Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.

Beyer, a former professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, adds needed nuance and complexity to orthodox histories of computing, in which legendary companies like IBM dominate, rolling out game-changing innovations like computer RAM only when it is ready, holding onto old technologies, such as punch cards, when they aren’t.

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Special Report: Top Tech 2021

After months of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, we can all expect a much better year

1 min read
Photo-illustration: Edmon de Haro

Last January in this space we wrote that “technology doesn't really have bad years." But 2020 was like no other year in recent memory: Just about everything suffered, including technology. One shining exception was biotech, with the remarkably rapid development of vaccines capable of stemming the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year's roundup of anticipated tech advances includes an examination of the challenges in manufacturing these vaccines. And it describes how certain technologies used widely during the pandemic will likely have far-reaching effects on society, even after the threat subsides. You'll also find accounts of technical developments unrelated to the pandemic that the editors of IEEE Spectrum expect to generate news this year.

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