International Women’s Day is a global initiative that has been celebrating the social, economical, cultural, and political achievements of women for over a century. To mark the 110th anniversary of International Women’s Day (8th March), we decided to look back and celebrate some of the biggest innovators behind mobile phone technologies.
Hedy LaMarr was once known as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ An icon of the silver screen, she appeared in thirty films alongside such other Hollywood greats as Clark Gable and James Stewart. Her most resounding legacy, however, wasn’t in cinema at all, but in the patent she filed in 1941 for frequency-hopping communication system. The technology she created with famed composer George Antheil was designed to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect or jam. Now, that might not sound like something we’d all find useful day-to-day, but it was the precursor to numerous widespread technologies like Bluetooth, GPS, and secure Wi-Fi. Her innovation formed the basis for the wireless technologies we use every day. And she achieved it while making some of the century’s most iconic movies – impressive, right?
Dr Shirley Ann Jackson
Dr Shirley Ann Jackson is the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT. To date she has been awarded more than 50 honorary doctoral degrees. She is also the first African American woman to serve as president at a top-ranked research university. She worked for a time at AT&T Bell Labs, where she conducted research in theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics. It was here she invented the technology responsible for caller ID and call waiting, changing the way we communicate by phone.
Donna Dubinsky was responsible for introducing the world to ‘personal digital assistants’ (PDAs). The former CEO and Co-founder of Palm Inc. (the business behind the PalmPilot) and the co-founder of Handspring (the company to release one of the first-ever smartphones), she stands at the forefront of the mobile computing movement. It was her innovation that brought these devices to popularity, and their impact shaped what smartphones have evolved to be today, technologies that continue to assist and even to shape entire industries today.
Joan Ball was the first person to run a commercially viable computer dating service. With the company she founded and ran, Com-Pat (short for ‘computerised compatibility’), she made the first match-by-computer in 1964. Interestingly, her program focused on matching people up not based on their likes but rather based on what they did not want in a partner. This is where online dating began. Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, all these successful services were built from the innovation of one woman who first devised a way to determine compatibility using a computer.
Karen Spärck Jones
Karen Spärck Jones revolutionised search engines. Recruited to Cambridge’s Language Research Unit, she lay the groundwork for the digital information retrieval we use today. It was her who introduced the use of thesauri into language processing. It’s because of her that search engines can recommend similar words, and consequently, make recommendations. She also introduced the idea and methods of ‘term weighing’, which is what helps determine which results are most relevant to your searches. A digital pioneer and a prolific campaigner for women in tech, her drive to empower lives on through her immortal words: “computing is too important to be left to men.”
As the capabilities of technology grow, so do the ways we can innovate. Mobile phone technologies are constantly evolving, with new handsets and new operating systems released and updated year on year. These are just five names that have shaped the technology we use so often today, and their legacy lives on every time we use our smartphones.