obituary Professor Kathleen Booth, one of Britain’s last early computer pioneers, has died. She was 100.
Kathleen Hylda Valerie Britten was born on July 9, 1922 in Worcestershire, England. During World War II she studied at Royal Holloway University of London, where she received a BSc in mathematics in 1944. After graduating, she became a Junior Research Associate at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a research facility in Farnborough. Two years later, she moved to Birkbeck College, first as a research fellow, later as a faculty member, and then as a research fellow.
She also worked at the British Rubber Producers’ Research Association (BRPRA) where she met and worked with mathematician and physicist Andrew Donald Booth, who later became her husband. After studies with X-ray crystallographer Professor JD Bernal – inventor of the Bernal sphere – AD Booth worked out crystal structures using X-ray diffraction data and found the manual calculations very tedious; He built an analog computer to automate part of it.
Kathleen Booth at work
In 1946, Britten and Booth were working at Birkbeck on a very early digital computer, the Automatic Relay Calculator (ARC), forming what is now the Birkbeck Department of Computer Science and Information Systems.
The ARC was established in Welwyn Garden City near BRPRA headquarters. AD Booth designed it, but Kathleen Britten and her colleague Xenia Sweeting built the hardware. Bernal received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for Booth and Britten to attend the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, where Booth reported that only Bernal’s friend John von Neumann gave them time. Von Neumann explained his concept of today’s von Neumann computer architecture.
Booth and Britten returned to the UK and redesigned their calculator based on these ideas, resulting in the ARC2, in the process inventing the first drum memory that provided enough storage space for both program information and data. Building the ARC2 out of relays proved too much, so in 1948 Booth and Britten switched to the Simple Electronic Computer (SEC) and then to the All Purpose Electronic X-Ray Computer or APE(X)C. You can try the APE(X)C in the MESS emulator.
The APE(X)C design was commercialized and sold as HEC by British Tabulating Machine Co Ltd, which eventually became ICL. A video of the HEC1 is below.
Kathleen and Andrew married in 1950, the same year that she also received her PhD in applied mathematics from the University of London. To secure further funding for their work, the Booths again went to the Rockefeller Foundation, which made them available on the condition that APE(C)X worked with both human languages and mathematics. The result was a demonstration of machine translation in November 1955.
As well as building the hardware for the first machines, she wrote all of the software for the ARC2 and SEC machines, in the process inventing what she called “contracted notation” and later became known as assembly language.
It also discusses synchronous versus asynchronous operation in the document linked at the bottom of this article. Her 1958 book, Programming for an automatic digital calculatorwas perhaps the first book on programming written by a woman.
In the same year she started working with neural networks, which was also the topic of her last work “Using neural nets to identifier marine saved”, which she co-authored with her son Dr. Ian JM Booth and published in 1993.
The Booth family moved to Canada in the early 1960s, where Kathleen and Andrew continued to work in science; She retired in the late 1970s.
Kathleen Booth died on September 29, 2022 and is survived by a daughter and her son. ®
For an accessible illustrated story, Fifty years of computers [PDF]Birkbeck School of Computer Science & Information Systems.
for science, General considerations for the design of a general-purpose electronic digital computer [PDF]Andrew D Booth and Kathleen HV Britten, 1947.
A scholarly treatise on her work, Andrew D Booth – Britain’s other ‘fourth man’ [PDF]by Roger G Johnson.
https://www.theregister.com/2022/10/29/kathleen_booth_obit/ Kathleen Booth, inventor of assembly language • The Register