October is UK Black History Month. As part of Childnet’s recognition of Black History Month, we wanted to recognise some of the Black individuals who have contributed to the way that we use technology and the internet today. In this blog post we will highlight some of the Black inventors, developers and pioneers who have played an important role in technological developments over the years, but are too often overlooked. Take a look below at a selection of some of these trailblazing and inspiring individuals:
Black pioneer in the development of the internet
Image source: https://www.thoughtco.com/philip-emeagwali-4689182
Dr Philip Emeagwali is a computer scientist who was born in the 1950s in Nigeria and moved to the US to study Mathematics and marine engineering. Philip designed the programme for the fastest computer on earth which was made up of over 60,000 widely distributed microprocessors and ran more than 3.1 billion calculations per second!
Emeagwali has said that his inspiration for this development came from watching bees working together in nature, and realised that he could build computer systems that can work and internally communicate like a beehive. This achievement led to him earning the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize from the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers, and this computing breakthrough of a practical way for computers to communicate with each other helped lead in the direction of the development of the internet. The technology that Philip designed is used today in the system of computers that are used by all search engines. So every time you do a Google search you can thank Dr Philip Emeagwali!
Black people who have led the way in technological developments
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granville_Woods
The inventor Granville T. Woods (1856–1910) was sadly often overlooked in comparison to others who were also developing new technologies at the time, particularly Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.
Granville T. Wood’s most important invention was the ‘induction telegraph’ in 1887. This allowed people to communicate by voice over telegraph wires, which until then was limited to only those who could communicate in morse code.
The patent for Woods’ invention was bought by Alexander Graham Bell, who is most commonly credited as the inventor of the telephone, but really Woods was integral to its development. Woods was also challenged by Thomas Edison (the inventor credited with the invention of the lightbulb) who took legal action against Woods to claim that the patent should belong to him.
Woods is also responsible for many developments in transportation including the electric rollercoaster.
Image source: https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/science-and-medicine/otis-bobby-boykin/
Otis Boykin (1920-1982) was an inventor whose most important development was the improvement of electrical resistors in the 1960s, making many electrical devices much more reliable. Otis’ electrical resistor technology is used in televisions, radios, computers and many more electrical devices today!
Image source: https://lessknownfacts.com/10-facts-about-marie-van-brittan-brown/
Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) was a nurse who became the first person to develop a prototype for closed circuit television security, or as we more commonly call it, CCTV. Marie developed a system that would alert a homeowner and contact the authorities quickly. Her invention became the basis for the modern CCTV system that is widely used today.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Ann_Jackson
Dr. Shirley Jackson is a physicist whose research and experiments have enabled others to work on many impressive telecommunications developments. These include the touch-tone telephone, the portable fax, caller ID, and the fiber-optic cable.
Image source: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gladys-mae-west-1930/
Gladys West is a mathematician whose work contributed to the development of GPS (Global positioning system). GPS technology is now the basis of online map services like Google Maps that so many people and industries around the world rely on every day!
Image source: https://www.caribbeannationalweekly.com/black-history-month-feature/black-history-month-spotlight-mark-dean/
Mark Dean is a computer scientist who has played a key part in the development of many computer technologies, including the colour computer monitor and the first gigahertz chip. He was also in the team who invented the system which allows for computer plug-ins such as disk drives and printers.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Edward_Maceo_West
James E. West is an inventor and professor who developed the technology which is now used in modern microphones, including the microphones found in phones, camcorders, hearing aids and more.
A forward-thinking Black leader in the tech industry
Image source: http://physics4thecool.blogspot.com/2019/02/dr-marian-r-croak.html
Marian R. Croak is the inventor of Voice over Internet Protocol, which enables us to use our internet network for voice and multimedia communications. Many of us have been using this technology more frequently over the last few month in the form of video conferencing software, such as Zoom or Skype calls. Marian has had an impressive career in the technology industry and has over 200 patents in her name, many of which are integral to the internet technologies we use daily. Marian was an early advocate in switching from wired telephone technology to internet services and has been a pioneer and forward thinker throughout her career. Marian also pioneered the use of phone network services to enable the public to easily donate to humanitarian causes. Marian currently works in research and development at Google.
This short blog post features only a few Black people who have been key in technological developments of the things we use regularly, but there are so many incredible Black inventors and scientists who have been integral to impressive and important inventions and developments! Take a look at the links below for some information on other Black inventors who are responsible for developing many of the things we use or see every day, from traffic lights to the imaging X-ray spectrometer!
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