January 15, 2007

The First "Computer Bug"

Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1945. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program".
In 1988, the log, with the moth still taped by the entry, was in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum at Dahlgren, Virginia.

It has now become a popular tradition that it was the legendary American Naval officer and mathematician Grace Murray Hopper who found the offending insect, but it's also said that she wasn't there when it happened. (Grace was a pioneer in data processing and is credited with developing the first compiler, which is a program that translates a high-level human-readable language into the machine language understood by the computer. In 1983, Grace became the first woman to achieve the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy.)

It is also widely believed that this incident was the origin of the term "bug" itself, but this is also not the case. If you read the wording of the report carefully, you can see that the writer is really saying: "Hey, we actually found a bug that was a real bug!" In fact the word "bug" was already being used in Thomas Edison's time to imply a glitch, error, or defect in a mechanical system or an industrial process. Furthermore, "bug" was used as far back as Shakespearean times meaning a frightful object (derived from a Welsh mythological monster called the "Bugbear"). (See also The "worst" computer bug.)

Abstracts taken from:

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