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One of the world's first computer designers logs off

by on31 October 2022

Kathleen Booth dies age 100 

The co-designer of one of the world's first operational computers who wrote two of the earliest books on computer design and programming has died at aged 100.

Kathleen Booth was also credited with the invention of the first assembly language, a programming language designed to be readable by users.

In 1946 she joined a team of mathematicians under Andrew Booth at Birkbeck College undertaking calculations for the scientists working on the X-ray crystallography images which contributed to the discovery of the double helix shape of DNA.

To help the number-crunching Booth had embarked on building a computing machine called the Automatic Relay Calculator or ARC. In 1947 Kathleen accompanied him on a six-month visit to Princeton University, where they consulted John von Neumann, who had developed the idea of storing programs in a computer. On their return to England they co-wrote General Considerations in the Design of an All Purpose Electronic Digital Computer, and went on to make modifications to the original ARC to incorporate the lessons learnt.

Booth devised the ARC assembly language for the computer and designed the assembler.

In 1950 Booth took a PhD in applied mathematics and the same year she and Andrew were married. In 1953 they cowrote Automatic Digital Calculators, which included the general principles involved in the new "Planning and Coding" programming style.

The Booths remained at Birkbeck until 1962 working on other computer designs including the All Purpose Electronic (X) Computer (Apexc, the forerunner of the ICT 1200 computer which became a bestseller in the 1960s), for which Kathleen published the seminal Programming for an Automatic Digital Calculator in 1958. The previous year she and her husband had co-founded the School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Birkbeck.

"The APE(X)C design was commercialised and sold as the HEC by the British Tabulating Machine Co, which eventually became ICL.


Last modified on 31 October 2022
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