The technology community is brimming with creative people who push the limits of what is possible. To celebrate this continued innovation, let’s look back at some of the pioneers who made our modern, digital world a reality.
Hedy LaMarr, the Hollywood Tech Genius
All creative people want to do the unexpected.
Hedy LaMarr was a woman who became a Hollywood actress to escape her marriage, then conducted scientific experiments in her spare time and quietly developed a technology with world-changing implications — as one does. LaMarr created a frequency-hopping technology in 1941 that was used to cloak Allied torpedoes during WW2. Later, this technology paved the way for wi-fi, GPS and Bluetooth. Unfortunately, LaMarr received little credit, and absolutely no financial reward, for her achievements. It wasn’t until 1997 that she received some recognition when the Electronic Frontier Foundation presented her with a Special Pioneer Award — to which she responded, ‘It’s about time.’
Seymour Cray, Father of Supercomputing
One of my guiding principles is don’t do anything that other people are doing.
In 1964, Cray created the CDC 6600 — a computer that ran 10 times faster than the average at the time and is often considered to be the world’s first supercomputer. Cray’s innovative design practice focused on ensuring the cooling system ran efficiently, and that electrical signals all arrived at the same time. However, Cray was a controversial character, known for his disdain of bureaucracy and penchant for working at night. He reportedly once used artificial blood as a coolant for his supercomputer. While artificial blood might be a step too far in most offices, perhaps we can all learn from his out of the box thinking style.
Grace Hopper, Rear Admiral and Programming Trailblazer
A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.
Hopper, sometimes known as ‘Amazing Grace’, was a computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. She’s known for developing one of the first computer programming languages, COBOL, during the 1960s, and predicted that computers would one day be small enough to sit on a desk. We also have Hopper to thank for the term ‘bug’ in relation to programming — she coined the term after a moth flew into a computer.
We create our future, by well improving present opportunities: however few and small they be.
Edison may have invented the light bulb, but Latimer wrote the book on it: ‘Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.’ Latimer was also heavily involved in helping Alexander Graham Bell patent the telephone. As a black man in the 1800s, Latimer wasn’t given the credit he deserved for his inventions. Besides the light bulb and the telephone, Latimer also invented train bathrooms, installed electric plants in several American cities, won a patent for his safe elevator design and created disinfecting and cooling systems for hospitals.
Accessibility ignites innovation.
On a more modern note, one of the most incredible recent developments in technology accessibility is undoubtedly Chieko Asakawa’s IBM Home Page Reader, a voice browser program that gave visually impaired people access to the internet. Asakawa became blind after a swimming accident at age 14 and grew up asking her brothers to read her textbooks aloud. As a result, she began developing digital book technologies. Since then, Asakawa has been working on cognitive assistance technology, which will eventually enable people with sensory limitations (e.g., blind or deaf) to navigate the world independently.
Tim Berners-Lee, Founder of the World Wide Web
The web is for everyone, and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.
Last but not least: the creator of the internet. Berners-Lee came up with the early version of the internet while working at CERN in 1991 to share research materials and data with fellow academics. In 1993, CERN put the World Wide Web in the public domain, and from there the internet flourished. Berners-Lee believes the Internet is a basic right and has continued to campaign for public accessibility.