The First Computer Bug Ever — Literally

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In the modern information age, most of us take the terms “computer bug” and “debugging” for granted. Most computer literate people probably can’t remember a time when an alternate meaning for “bug” wasn’t an “error in a software program or hardware system”. There is, in fact, an interesting story behind the adoption of the bug reference.

The tale begins with Rear Admiral Grace Brewster Murray Hopper. Born in 1906, Admiral Hopper was a gifted mathematician. She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard, Mark I computer. One of her other claims to fame is that she was responsible for the development of the COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) computer programming language. COBOL is still widely used today in software programs that power banks, insurance companies, and governments. In 1952, she also invented a compiler that converted instructions written in the English language into computer code.

For many years the term bug was used by engineers to refer to anomalies. According to history, the world’s first computer bug was found on September 9th, 1947 by Grace Hopper in the Harvard, Mark II computer. The story goes that a computer at Harvard wasn’t functioning properly. When it was opened, a dead moth was found in the relays. The crew taped the bug to their logbook entry and wrote “First actual case of bug being found”. The log update is widely thought to have been done by Grace Hopper. The bug and the page it’s attached to are on exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.

This YouTube video from Biography is a summary of Grace Hopper’s accomplishments as a computer scientist and military leader.

With Artificial Intelligence becoming increasingly popular, it’s hard to predict how software bugs will evolve in the future. Maybe in a few years, a common “bug” will be the fact that our electronic assistant doesn’t remember our favorite restaurant or theatre.

What’s the worst computer “bug” (software or hardware glitch) you’ve ever had?

Author: Donna Jennings

I have a BA and a BComm, as well as a Diploma in Programming. I have been a COBOL system designer and coder for over 20 years, and I am still trying to demystify the language for myself...I Love the culture of COBOL and how it has provided so many people, including myself, with a lifelong livelihood. The opinions in my posts are completely my own, based on my many years of experience working in a COBOL development environment.

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