The Queen sent her first ever tweet at the recent opening of a new exhibition at London's Science Museum. The tweet read: 'it is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @sciencemuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.' The Queen has a history of engaging with modern technology. She made her first radio broadcast aged just 14 in October 1940, and in 1976 became the first monarch to ever send an email.
The new exhibition, named Information Age, is the Science Museum's first and largest permanent gallery. It focuses on what the museum curators call the "six networks that changed our world". These include the telegraph, the telephone, radio and TV, satellites, computer networks and mobiles. The gallery explores how far the world has come since the telegraph first made it possible to convey messages almost instantaneously over long distances. Each form of communication is represented by a selection of gadgets from that era, accompanied by real-life stories of how they have affected the way we live and work today.
One of the stories told by Information Age is that of Ada Lovelace, the woman who lends her name to an annual celebration of the achievements of women in the technology industry. Ada is widely recognised as the world's first computer programmer. She worked alongside Charles Babbage in the early 19th century on his Analytical Engine, including writing an equation now recognised as the world's first ever computer program.
There are a number of notable women trail blazers in tech who have helped inspire generations with their work. Following in Ada's footsteps was Hedy Lamarr, a computing pioneer and, unusually also, a Hollywood film star. In 1941 Lamarr worked with composer George Antheil to develop an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping. Their system was designed during World War 2 to prevent enemy fighters being able to force US radio controlled torpedoes off route by jamming transmissions to them. The technology has since become a constituent part of GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, and it's thanks to this that both Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Ada and Hedy were followed by British programmer and entrepreneur Dina St Jonhston. In the late 50s, Dina founded the UK's first ever software house, Vaughan Programming Services, developing software for the BBC, British Rail and Unilever. The company produced pioneering real-time passenger information systems and flight simulators for the RAF, and still exists today as part of GE.
The 40s was the decade that saw Joan Clarke at the centre of one of Britain's greatest technological feats - cracking the German Kriegsmarine (naval) Enigma messages during WWII. Portrayed in the recently released film The Imitation Game, Clarke was one of the first women to achieve a double first in Mathematics at Cambridge. She was recruited straight out of university and is widely regarded as the computing genius Alan Turing's intellectual equal at the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) in Bletchley Park.
Women also played a big role in breaking the code that is said to have ended World War II three years early. The 1940s Bletchley Park codebreaking operation was made up of nearly 10,000 people, approximately 75 per cent of whom were women. These codebreakers used Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic computer to decipher the Lorenz-encrypted messages between Hitler and his generals during the Second World War.
Bletchley Park has since become the birthplace of computing. The Imitation Game depicts Alan Turing, the brilliant British polymath's race against time trying to decipher the Germans' messages during the war. The place has a great deal of historical significance, a fact now commemorated by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), which was set up in 2007 to celebrate the site's contribution to the world of computing.
However, TNMOC isn't just about examining the past, it's also about the future. This is why Ocado Technology is now sponsoring The National Museum of Computing's Weekend Codability Project, which aims to empower young people by introducing them to the basics of programming. Both girls and boys will be taught the skills they need to revolutionise the industries of tomorrow. They will learn using a range of older tools such as the 1980s BBC Micro and Raspberry Pi in addition to modern, more familiar tools such as tablets and laptops, so they are able to continue coding at home.
The Information Age exhibition is testament to how far we have come in the world of technology, however it is now time to look to the future. I am confident that projects like Weekend Codability, as well as the addition of coding to the English curriculum, will help inspire the next generation of Britons to reclaim their position at the forefront of the technology industry.