23.3.10

Hedy Lamarr and finding my tech heroine

Looking back from the heights of current human achievement, the interwebs of 4chan and twitter, Maxwell probably doesn't seem all that important. Yet, it was his contributions which laid the groundwork to the laws of electromagnetism and all its myriad applications. The precursor to the internet and a direct descendant of Maxwell's efforts was, of course, telephony and mobile networks - trying to capture human voice and transmitting it to gap distances and give, in an analog way of course, a glimpse (largely) into people's mundane chores. One of the most fascinating technologies for mobile networks is Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum, which leads to one of my favorite off-beat personalities - Hedy Lamarr.

Hedy Lamarr is remembered mostly for her looks, on-screen nudity, being Delilah and those flaming,wild eyes. But what a lot of people are ignorant of is her co-patent for a Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum device. Based on a piano roll, to generate 88 frequencies, for a carrier to bounce between in a pseudorandom sequence, the patent she co-wrote is a precursor to those ubiquitous Qualcomm chips. It was designed as an anti-jamming device for use by the Allies in the Second World War. But it never took off in her time, it was very military oriented and remained buried for over 20 years. What *is* fascinating though, is her success to mix two disparate fields - Hollywood and technology, bringing about what is truly a revolution in todays world. In today's dreary 9 to 5 technology cycle, it encourages me greatly to see this example of the art of science; to see that people who discriminate between arts and sciences and dismiss creativity in technology by applying labels - 'Designer This' or 'Developer That' - are wrong.

When I think of Hedy Lamarr, I can only think of the triumph of creativity over hidebound technology and the victory of science over elitist artists. That is why she is an inspiration and my choice for Ada Lovelace day.

Bootnote: I have purposefully added no links, save one, as an experiment.