Can you imagine a world without computers? Believe it or not, your parents might just be able to remember a time when computers weren’t everywhere you look. You probably use computers all the time. After all, you’re reading today’s Wonder of the Day, right?
If you have much experience with computers, you probably already know that they’re not perfect. No person or machine is perfect. We all make mistakes. That goes for computers, too.
Of course, it can be very frustrating when computer problems prevent you from having fun or getting work done. We call these faults and errors with computers and their programs “computer bugs.” But are insects really to blame?
Nope! Computer bugs are usually just mistakes in the computer’s design or programming. Even well-written computer programs that work almost perfectly still have bugs. Programs or computers that have lots of problems are said to be “buggy.”
When people write new computer programs, they usually try to test them thoroughly before they finish them. The process of finding computer bugs and fixing them is called “debugging.” Some people have jobs that require them to test computers and their programs constantly.
If you’re wondering when the first computer bug was discovered, that happened in 1947 when Harvard researchers were having trouble with their Mark II supercomputer. After some investigating, they discovered that a moth was trapped in a relay and causing a short circuit.
The researchers removed the moth (literally “debugging” the machine) and taped it to their report. Their report reads: “First actual case of bug being found.” The report can be seen today at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Although some believe that this is how the terms “bug” and “debugging” came into being, that’s not the case. Evidence shows that people used the word “bug” to describe problems with mechanical devices as early as the 1870s.
So are computer bugs a big deal? They can be. In 1962, a missing hyphen in a computer program led to the loss of the Mariner 1 Venus probe — a piece of unmanned space equipment that cost $80 million to build. In 1996, the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket — worth over $1 billion — was destroyed less than a minute after launching, due to a bug in the on-board guidance computer.
The effect of computer bugs on businesses cost big bucks, too. A 2002 study estimated that computer bugs cost the U.S. economy as much as $59 billion every year! When computer bugs strike, you have to pay experts to fix them. Sometimes you even have to replace your computer and we all know how expensive that can be!