The Great Tech Story’s non-player characters (NPCs) are a diverse group of historical figures, living pioneers in computing, innovators, and technology users. Also meet some talking artifacts like a crash test dummy and a game avatar! Role-models and characters throughout the game will help you see how you can use, create, and engage with technology.
Non-player characters are real people or based on real people.
In 1946, mathematician Jean Bartik was one of six human “computers” chosen to program a new machine called ENIAC, an electronic calculating machine that used glass vacuum tubes. Programming ENIAC could take weeks.
This NPC is in the Hardware Garage, where she explains that most computers have the same basic parts: a processor, memory, and input and output devices like keyboards, screens, and printers.
After earning a BS in physics from MIT and a masters in electrical engineering in 1963, Lynn Conway worked at IBM Research and Xerox’s famed Palo Alto Research Center, where she pioneered ways to make it far easier to design computer chips. She transitioned from male to female in 1968.
This NPC is located in the Hardware Garage, where she explains how the switching technology used for early telegraph and telephone networks contributed to modern computing and telecommunications.
The “fab worker” is a woman employed in a factory that makes microchips for computers. She describes how she has to wear a full-body suit to keep dust off the chips and protect herself from dangerous chemicals.
This NPC is in the Hardware Garage next to three computers of different sizes, and eras, but similar power. She explains how shrinking transistors have made computers smaller, cheaper, and more powerful (Moore’s Law).
An information scientist, Jake Feinler was the director of the Network Information Systems Center at the Stanford Research Institute from 1972 to 1989. The NIC kept track of every computer on the ARPAnet and later the internet and created “.com” and “.org”.
This NPC is in the Hardware Garage, where she explains that early computers were often used alone but today they connect to each other through modern versions of the telecom networks that pioneered wires and switches nearly 200 years ago.
Born in Indiana, mathematician and pioneering computer scientist Margaret Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command and lunar modules that put astronauts on the moon in 1969.
This NPC teleports players from the Apollo lunar lander artifact in the exhibit to the Software Lab, where they will engage in activities to learn about concepts behind software development.
Born in New York in 1906, US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was also a pioneering computer scientist who developed advanced languages and tools to make programming easier on early computers.
This NPC is in the Software Lab, where she explains that software programmers write instructions that are converted to the 1s and 0s computers understand.
Born in London in 1815, Ada Lovelace was a countess who studied mathematics despite the social strictures of her era. She helped invent programming concepts and is known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer.
This NPC is in the Software Lab, where she describes how early machines were controlled by ropes, gears, and holes punched in paper tape or cards.
Mathematician and electrical engineer Claude Shannon was born in Massachusetts in 1916. In the 1930s, he was one of the people to foresee the basis of the modern computer. He went on to pioneer information theory.
This NPC is located in a demo room in the Hardware Garage, where he explains his realization that wiring relays together lets you calculate anything. He also explains how AND gates work in computing technology.
A woman NPC from Kenya explains how she uses texting for much more than keeping in touch with friends. In Kenya and other parts of the world, people have long used texting to pay for things, apply for jobs, and even vote!
This NPC teleports players from the software section of the exhibit to the Impact House, where they will meet a family that uses all kinds of technology in daily life.
An English mathematician, computer scientist, and more, Alan Turing worked on breaking enemy codes during World War II. He helped come up with the idea for the computer and his “Turing Test” is a way to see if artificial intelligence is smart enough to fool a human.
This NPC is in the Software Lab, and he explains branching, or how a program can do something different as conditions change.
In the mid-19th century, inventor Alfred Vail helped Samuel Morse develop Morse code, his telegraph and what became known as Morse code, but he got little public credit. Used as the “common language” of telegraph systems, Morse code represents information digitally, just like computers.
This NPC is located in the Hardware Garage in a demo room, where he explains how switches and relays work in computing technology.