Reading about a few of the great technological engineers in history made me wonder why their reputations are less well-known. The contributions of the female computers of WWII, Ada Lovelace, and Alan Turing seem to be met with resistance and controversy. The marginalization of women and even certain men leads to the popular theory that straight, white men invented the Internet.
The images and footage of the female computers in the film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II are far less iconic than the images and footage of the male soldiers in uniform. If you search for images of women during World War II, the top results include the Times Square Kiss, actresses, pin ups, and Rosie the Riveter. The mathematical and technical skills of the female computers were put to use in ballistics research, weapons testing, and eventually chemical weaponry. Perhaps the classified nature of their research and the implied scope of their successful efforts to the war, namely the accuracy and effectiveness of the weapons used defeat the enemy, are reasons that their contributions have been marginalized. However, the male soldiers who used those weapons in battle are often praised for their heroism.
Charles Babbage is a name that is far more recognizable than his young collaborator Ada Lovelace. Even to this day Lovelace’s contributions to Babbage’s work have been debated and considered by some to have been greatly exaggerated.
Alan Turing’s imprisonment, due to living openly as a homosexual, and suicide draws attention away from his biggest achievements such as the universal computing machine, his code breaking skills, and his interest in testing artificial intelligence.
After reading several articles, I noticed a common view that women, homosexual men, and even minorities in STEM and IT innovations have been regarded as secondary players to the more important roles held by the white male innovators. One article goes so far as to say that the contributions of women to technological advances have been elevated beyond fact and thereby have hurt women’s cause for recognition in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Are people not allowed to celebrate remarkable innovations by women, homosexual men, and minorities simply because the praise is too high for such “small” and “hidden” contributions? I believe that it’s important to honor all of the significant innovators who have paved the way for the production of today’s technologies. While white men are credited with inventing the Internet, that does not mean that women, homosexuals, and minorities lacked the skills or capability to do so. If anything, this marginalization means that the latter set had to work harder to be heard and acknowledged for their efforts.
If we can credit [Al] Gore as an Internet innovator despite having nothing at all to do with developing its infrastructure three decades prior, then surely we can credit women whose development of early coding language, network protocol and ARPANET influenced networked infrastructure pre-, during and post-DARPA. Certainly we can credit Ada Lovelace, a mathematician of the 19th century who is considered the world’s first computer programmer. And, of course, there’s an entire history of mathematics we can link to the African Diaspora! (Tara L. Conley, “The Women and People of Color Who Invented the Internet”)
It’s inaccurate and insulting to suggest that only white men are responsible for the creation of the Internet as well as every important innovation that led to history’s greatest technological advances. Several crucial STEM projects are works of collaboration and cooperation between men and women of different skill sets and backgrounds. There’s no reason why some of technology’s pioneers should be overlooked because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation.