I just finished reading Kathy Kleiman’s fantastic book, Proving Ground , about the ENIAC 6: the six women who were the first team dedicated to programming the world’s first fully programmable, digital, electronic computer. The parallels between the earliest digital computers and the state of today’s quantum computers are obvious and well-trodden at this point, but let me present one such parallel before summarizing the incredible year of 2023 in quantum engineering. Jean Bartik, Kathleen Antonelli, Marlyn Meltzer, Betty Holberton, Frances Spence, and Ruth Teitelbaum had a crucial job whose importance was not appreciated at the time: they served as the bridge between the experimental physicists and electrical engineers who were building the machine and the theoretical physicists with equations they wanted to solve or systems they wanted to simulate. All six had come up through the ranks as computers and were given the title of programmer, but still ranked as clerical staff in pay grade. And yet, their job entailed understanding the research-level mathematics of the applications and the wiring of ENIAC and its signal propagation down the microsecond level. In today’s terms, even the word “microcode” does not quite capture the detailed level at which they worked when designing the machine wiring and switch configurations needed to numerically solve partial differential equations.
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