It’s Ada Lovelace day today, the international day for recognizing the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s named in honour of Ada Lovelace, who was a brilliant mathematician and who wrote the world’s first computer program. The day was founded after research revealed that successful women need to see MORE female role models than men do. It’s also a fantastic excuse to celebrate and shout-out to the women we find inspiring.
I want to use my Ada Lovelace Day post to celebrate some especially unsung heroines – women who study the standards and protocols that underpin all of our digital communications networks. Studying standards is a little like studying sewers, or railway engineering: it’s essential for understanding how our world is put together, even if it’s not very glamorous. It’s even more important when we consider that digital networks are now the platforms on which we do much of our communicating, and so much of our coming together as humans. These networks run on protocols that are, like standards, the basic building blocks of networked communication. They govern what kinds of information moves, and where.
Standards and protocols might be invisible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t political – as everyone who has ever failed to get access to information because it was in a form their computer couldn’t read, because it was behind a firewall, or delivered using a protocol (like peer to peer) blocked by a communication provider.
So I’d like to celebrate two fantastic women who help us to understand this invisible world and its politics.
Dr Laura DeNardis is the author of several books on standards and protocols, including Protocol Politics: The Globalization of Internet Governance which looked at the politics inherent in governing the internet. She is the former executive director of the Yale Information Society Project and is now an Associate Professor at American University. She is currently working on a book that explores the freedom of speech implications of internet governance decisions, including the privatization of privacy decisions and the decisions about net neutrality. Laura’s work has done a huge amount to raise awareness of the politics of the internet’s inner workings.
Alissa Cooper is Chief Computer Scientist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, DC, and a PhD student at the Oxford Internet Institute. She studies the internet itself, looking at where power and control is located across the network, and analyzing what the implications might be for innovation, privacy and expression. That means she asks really hard questions about what happens to freedom of speech when internet services are blocked or filtered by ISPs. She is also an internet maker: she is co-chair of the Geographic Location/Privacy working group (Geopriv) within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). And since I know her, I can also say that she’s the smartest, funniest, most dedicated advocate we could hope to have for a better internet.
Thank you to these two women for inspiring me to look deeper into the technology I use every day. Happy Ada Lovelace day to all.
PS: Alissa and I just published an article on Net Neutrality – you can see the abstract here, but the journal is paywalled, sadly 🙁