Ghosts in the Machine: Female Computers in Science Fiction and History

The ENIAC programmers When the computer is addressed in many science fiction shows, it often replies in a female-coded voice. From Majel Roddenberry’s Federation computer voice in the Star Trek series to the sentient ship AIs in Andromeda, Killjoys, Dark Matter, Outlaw Star, and Mass Effect, artificial intelligence has been a science fiction regular since at least the 1960’s. There are male-coded AIs as well—J.A.R.V.I.S., Hal, that weird Haley Joel Osment-bot from A.I.—but women have been part of humanity’s relationship with electric computers since the very beginning. Jennifer S. Light’s article “When Computers Were Women” discusses the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) project during World War II, and how the people doing the actual computational tasks were a group of civilian and military women. The women were actually the…


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