Influential Women in STEM
Influential Women in STEM
On this National Women’s Equality Day, we want to recognize all the women in STEM that have made waves of change in the world. Their contributions affect all we know today. From the foundations of computers and the beginning of the internet to AI and personal robotics—these five women have shaped the course of technology in our modern society.
Grace Hopper may be one of the most notable names in computer history—as she is known for her contributions in computer programming, most notably creating the first computer language “compiler” called the A-0. The compiler is notable in that it translated mathematical code into machine-readable binary so that eventually, it would be possible for programs to be used for multiple computers, rather than just a single machine. She and her team at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation also created the first programming language to use English-like commands called Flow-Matic—and she says she wanted it created so that it was more user-friendly for data-processors who were not mathematicians. “What I was after in beginning English language [programming] was to bring another whole group of people able to use the computer easily,” said Hopper when talking about Flow-Matic.
Cynthia Breazel is an MIT professor, who also founded their Personal Robots group. She is leading the path with “personal robots” and social interactions between humans and robotic AIs. Her research group actively works with social robots that can be used to help perform supportive tasks and build relationships with as helpful companions. She has spoken in TED talks, and her book Designing Sociable Robots is regarded as a “landmark in launching the field of Social Robotics and Human-Robot Interaction.”
Radia Perlman is regarded as one of the pioneers of the internet—she created the spanning tree algorithm which broadened ethernet from a single wire with limited capability to something larger that can handle larger tasks. And she later invented TRansparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) that allows ethernet to make optimal use of bandwidth. Her textbook, Interconnections, allowed others to study the science of her work and allowed clarity in a murky subject. From Internet Hall of Fame: “Her contributions to network security include trust models for Public Key Infrastructure, data expiration, and distributed algorithms resilient despite malicious participants. She believes that designs should allow zero-configuration operation, and that where configuration is allowed, misconfiguration should not be possible.” Many hail her at the Mother of the Internet (though she would disagree).
Rana el Kaliouby
Rana el Kaliouby’s most famous for her work to “humanize technology before it dehumanizes us.” She is a leader in her work to bring emotional intelligence to AI—she is developing AI that can recognize human emotion and understand it. “She is extremely passionate about the ethical development and deployment of AI, including advocating for standards to ensure data privacy and to mitigate data and algorithmic bias.” She was the CEO and co-founder of Activa, an MIT spin-off AI company, however, she stepped down once Activa was acquired by Smart Eye. She still maintains work in AI investment with Smart Eye where she continues to advocate and teach the humanizing of AI.
Virginia “Ginny” Travers
Virginia Travers is the women who wrote the software that created internet gateways that was the precursor to routers, as well as being the key component to different networks being able to connect. She also proved the viability of the internet and played a key role in taking the internet from the lab to common use. From The Internet Hall of Fame: “Complicated technologies often succeed brilliantly in the hands of their creators, yet fail when transferred out of the lab. Travers was committed to the ongoing success of her invention and was instrumental in helping it expand from a series of one-off uses to a technology that enabled substantive advancement of the Internet.”
Many women in STEM make great leaps and bounds for the advancement of society—from the common use of computers and the internet to robotics and emotionally-intelligent AIs. Without Grace Hopper, Radia Perlman, and Virginia Travers, the world as we know it, where many use the internet and computers for work and pleasure, would be completely different. And Cynthia Breazeal and Rana el Kaliouby are paving ways for technology to transform how we live. On this National Women’s Equality Day, we recognize those who brought us the means for even University of Fairfax’s reason for being. We want to educate the next league of extraordinary women to transform society and technology with their brilliant ideas. Go to ufairfax.edu to learn how you can earn your education and take steps to become a history-making woman in STEM.