When Computers Were Human

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[June 6, 2005] What did it mean to be a human computer? Who were the first ones? Before Palm Pilots and iPods, PCs and laptops, the term "computer" referred to people who did scientific calculations by hand. In his book When Computers Were Human, David Alan Grier, editor of IEEE Annals of History of Computing, offers the first in-depth account of these workers, who were neither calculating geniuses nor idiot savants but knowledgeable people who, in other circumstances, might have become scientists in their own right. Beginning with the return of Halley's Comet in 1758 and the effort of three French astronomers to compute its orbit to the UNIVAC electronic computer projecting its 1986 orbit, Grier traces "human computers" through the ages. Join Grier, along with former "computers," for this look into a little-known slice of high tech history.