Businesses want the IT systems and software they use to be as easy to use, as streamlined and as beneficial to productivity as possible, which often means avoiding the types of complexity and jargon that all too often can be a part of the computer experience.

An effective, personable business IT support team can help with this, providing not only a wide range of services, expertise and access to dedicated hardware solutions but also doing so whilst cutting down the jargon and explaining as clearly as possible what works, what doesn’t and why.

Whilst IT support will provide a wide range of help, one of the most common jobs they will be asked to do on a regular basis is to troubleshoot problems and fix bugs.

It is such a common term that people often do not even question why we even call solving technical issues bug fixing in the first place, often assuming the connection between insects and technical problems is that both are annoying and difficult to ignore.

However, there is a greater connection between the bugs that fly around and bother people and the bugs in computer systems that bother the people who try to use them.

Insecta Ex Machina

The use of the term “bug” to mean the types of issues IT technicians solve predates the widespread use of computers by nearly a century, initially deriving from the word “bugbear” first used in the late 16th century.

By the late 19th century it was so widely used that inventors such as Thomas Edison would casually use the term in correspondence, and by the 1930s, mechanical devices such as Baffle Ball would even proudly advertise themselves as featuring “no bugs”.

Similarly, the concept of “debugging” had been used in the context of testing aircraft engines and other components.

In this context, given the speed of aeroplanes and the number of insects in the sky, it was seen as an inevitability that contact with a bug, however small, had the potential to cause major faults in what was at the time exceptionally precarious technology.

The term was known enough in military parlance that it was even used by J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1944 to describe attempts to recruit more technical staff to the Manhattan Project.

However, the point where the computer world and the insect world intersected was believed to have taken place on 9th September 1947, most famously publicised by the late Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992), a mathematician and member of the United States Navy.

Admiral Hopper was a phenomenally important pioneer in the computer world, devising the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which was used to create COBOL and is the foundation of the modern computer world, eventually giving her the nickname “Grandma COBOL”.

She also wrote the first computer manual and helped to develop the UNIVAC I, the first computer designed for business.

A few years before this, however, she was working at Harvard University, programming their electromechanical Mark II computer with a number of important pioneers in the field.

At some point, the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator developed a strange error that was impossible to trace to an error in the code that had been used and did not appear to be a fault in one of the many complex pieces of mechanical or electronic equipment.

The operators kept looking and eventually tracked down the culprit; a moth had managed to get stuck in one of the relays, reported as “Relay 70 Panel F” in the logbook the error was reported in.

Next to the error report was the moth itself, taped into immortality with the amusing aside that an actual bug had been found in the system.

Contrary to some versions of the story, this was far from the first use of the term “bug” in a technical support context, and Admiral Hopper was not the person to find the bug, tape it in the log book or write down the infamous message, although she apparently loved recounting the story and frequently used it in speaking tours.

However, there were two important milestones that this represented. This appeared to be the first actual case of a bug affecting a computer system and it was the first use of the term in relation to a computer bug, both linking the expression to computers.

The logbook that the moth was taped to was initially stored at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Computer Museum in Virginia, although after years of complex bureaucracy, the book made its way to the History of American Technology Museum at the Smithsonian Institute.