Published on 12 feb 2024 • 5 min read
Science and technology have been profoundly influenced by a diverse group of visionaries, with women standing out for their pivotal contributions. Even though they've faced tough challenges, their strong will and great ideas have led to some astounding and important discoveries.
As we come together to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science minds turn to those who have laid the foundation for our current achievements and those who continue to push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. It’s a day steeped in gratitude for the courage, brilliance, and tenacity of women in science and technology, tracing a line from the pioneering days of the past to the innovative present and the boundless future.
Also, we are reminded not only of the gender gap that persists in STEM fields but also of the extraordinary women who have helped to bridge that gap. Today, we reflect on their relentless pursuit of knowledge and innovation, celebrating their contributions across the spectrum of science, with a special focus on the field of robotics.
The tapestry of women in science is rich and varied, woven with the stories of pioneers from the past and visionaries of the present. In my last conversation with Sir Dermot Turing, author and nephew of Alan Turing (exciting news on this to follow!), through the insightful reflections shared, we were reminded of the remarkable women within the Turing family who have carved their names in the annals of science. The Stoney sisters—Florence and Edith—emerged as pioneers in medical physics during the tumultuous times surrounding World War I. Their dedication to the field likely influenced the career path of their distant cousin, the esteemed Alan Turing, who himself became a monumental figure in the realm of computer science.
Alan Turing’s own team of research students, prominently featuring women such as Audrey Bates and Cicely Popplewell, showcases an early example of a gender-inclusive approach in a field that has long been perceived as male-dominated. Sir Dermot Turing's pride in the women's scientific connections to the Turing family emphasizes the importance of their revolutionary efforts, a strong pillar of the family's storied history.
Alan Turing was closely involved in the early development of computer science and cybernetics, but perhaps he himself would prefer us to look forward rather than back. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science reminds us that women are still under-represented in education and careers in computer science, mathematics and engineering. There is still a lot of work to do. The Turing Trust – set up to honour Alan Turing’s legacy in computer science and education – makes its own contribution by revamping pre-used computers to enable students in Africa to acquire valuable digital skills. Initiatives like this bridge the gap, and show us the way ahead.
The field of robotics is not just about celebrating past achievements but also about recognizing modern-day leaders. Dr. Manuela M. Veloso stands out with her innovative work on autonomous robots and their integration into human environments. Her efforts in advancing AI and human-robot interaction, and scaling RoboCup, have been significant. Alongside her, pioneers such as Ayanna Howard and Cynthia Breazeal have been instrumental in shaping our relationship with robots, transforming them into collaborative partners in various aspects of life.
At the United Robotics Group, we believe in preparing for the challenges of tomorrow: a task that requires diverse perspectives and a wide pool of talent. This includes a commitment to ensuring a balance in our talented teams – which is reflected in the diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, ethnicities, and educational qualifications of URG employees (more than 25% female professionals and 30 nationalities). When it comes to the next generation, we are not far behind. Our annual participation in #Robocup, a global robotics and AI competition, saw considerable participation from young girls last year as they utilized the #NAO robot to develop advanced technologies and collaborated on new ideas.
As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we must continue to tell the stories of these remarkable women — from the Stoney sisters to Katherine Johnson, from Marie Curie to Gitanjali Rao, and from the women codebreakers of Bletchley Park to today’s leaders like Dr. Manuela Veloso. Their stories are beacons of possibility, showing us that when women are given the opportunity to contribute to science and robotics, they not only succeed — they lead the way.
Let us honor the legacy of these trailblazers and commit to a future where women in robotics and science are not an exception but the norm. By doing so, we can ensure a future of innovation that is rich with the contributions of the brilliant women who are, and always have been, integral to the advancement of science and technology.
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