2011 Legends and Living Legacy Awards
Legend: Dr. Grace Murray Hopper
Pioneer in computer technology that invented COBOL, an early computer language.
Grace Murray, a pioneer in computer technology, was born in New York City in December 1906. She graduated from Vassar College in 1928 with a B.A. in mathematics and from Yale in 1934 with a Ph.D. in mathematics. She was married in 1930 to Vincent Foster Hopper, but divorced him in 1945.
In 1943, Hopper resigned her position teaching math at Vassar to join the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). In 1944, she was commissioned as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade), and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University. Her team worked on and produced the Mark I, an early prototype of the electronic computer. Hopper wrote a 500-page manual in which she outlined the fundamental operating principles of computing machines. Additionally, while working on the Mark I, Hopper coined the word “bug” to describe a computer malfunction.
After the end of the war Hopper became a research fellow at Harvard and in 1949, joined the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation, where she was involved in the creation of UNIVAC, the first all electronic digital computer. She invented the first computer compiler, a program that translates written instructions into codes that computers read directly. This work led her to co-develop COBOL, one of the earliest standardized computer languages. COBOL enabled computers to respond to words in addition to numbers. She predicted that computers would one day be small enough to fit on a desk and the public would use them in their everyday life.
During her career she retained her affiliation with the Naval Reserve and obtained the title of Rear Admiral in 1985. The USS Hopper was named in her honor and she was buried with full Naval honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Legacy: Helen Greiner
Helen Greiner received the Grace Murray Hopper Living Legacy Award for her achievements in technology and innovation.
Helen Greiner is a computer fanatic. As co-founder of iRobot, a consumer robotics company, she is revered in the technology world for her visionary and innovative work in delivering robots into the industrial, consumer and military markets. Her work experience in robotics technology includes work at NASA, Jet Propulsion Lab, and MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. She currently heads CyPhy Works, a robotics company founded in 2008, as its Chief Executive Officer.
On a fateful day in 1977, Greiner made a trip to a movie theater where she beheld a beautiful creature that would be an inspiration for the work she would come to do later in her life. Star Wars enchanted Greiner, and she was even more fascinated by the film’s famed robot, R2D2.
Inspired by the possibility of technology, Greiner has forged an impressive and successful career dedicated to the development of robotics. Her robots can do everything from sniffing out bombs and exploring pyramids in ancient Egypt to mopping a kitchen floor. Greiner’s iRobot venture proved to be a tremendously successful.
Grace Hopper was right in her prediction that computer technology would one day be used every day and be small enough to fit on a desk and Greiner’s work is living proof of that. Greiner even predicts that in a few years every home in the U.S. will have a robot performing simple tasks like household chores. Like Hopper, Greiner worked out the nuts and bolts, even fixed a few “bugs,” of her robotic technology to make it useful in the consumer world.