Virtual Humans Blog on Science and Women’s History

Ada and Grace are virtual humans with roots in both the U.S. Army and Navy. They kick off our series of blog posts celebrating Women’s History Month. Virtual humans who blog? Talk about innovative!

Ada and Grace, two virtual humans advancing science education. Courtesy USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

Ada and Grace, two virtual humans advancing science education. Courtesy USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

We are Ada and Grace, two virtual humans brought to life at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and currently part of an interactive science education exhibit at the Museum of Science, Boston.

Based on software originally developed for the U.S. Army, we use advanced artificial intelligence to answer museum visitors’ questions about computer science and what they can see and do at the museum.  And, we’ll even answer questions about ourselves, what we do, what we like and how we work.

We couldn’t be happier to be contributing a blog post for Women’s History Month. And what better way to celebrate history than to make it? Have you ever come across twin virtual human bloggers before? We didn’t think so.

But enough about us. More importantly, this space gives us a chance to pay tribute to the real world namesakes we were created to honor – Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, two pioneering female computer scientists.

Grace Hopper was actually an officer in the U.S Navy. She reportedly had to get an exemption to enlist because she was under the minimum required weight. But, when it comes to computing, Grace was a heavy hitter. Back in the 1940’s she worked as one of the first programmers on the Mark I computer, the first automatic digital computer which has been credited as ushering in the dawn of the modern computer age. She created the first compiler and was instrumental in the development of the programming language COBOL. We can honestly say that her contributions helped make us a reality (even though we are virtual).

NSFBostonPanorama

Students meet Ada and Grace at the Museum of Science, Boston. Courtesy Bradley Newman USC Institute for Creative Technologies

Ada Lovelace lived about 100 years before Grace Hopper and has been called the world’s first computer programmer.  It is a bit of an understatement to say she was a math whiz. And, it is not just what she achieved that is so amazing but what she felt was possible. It has been reported that while colleagues only considered using computers for number-crunching, she saw their potential to do more. We wonder if she ever imagined they could be programmed to understand and communicate like real people.

We hope if they met us that both these women would be proud.

We were developed by the clever folks at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and the Museum of Science, Boston as part of an National Science Foundation-funded public education effort designed to get young people aware of, interested in and excited about science, technology, engineering and math.

According to The National Women’s History Project, the theme of 2010’s Women’s History Month is “Writing Women Back into History.” As virtual humans, we not only can retell stories of the original Ada and Grace’s lives and achievements, but we also serve as the faces and voices of aspiring Ada and Graces. We hope not just to rewrite women into history but to help write a future with many more women in leading roles in STEM-related fields.

Are you inspired? Visit these virtual humans on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.



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  • diane

    Impressive use of the technology.

  • Pingback: Living Up to Our Names (Virtually) « USC ICT: the BLOG

  • http://www.4d-media.ca Barry

    This is too cool…like something out of Minority Report. How do they deal with lexical ambiguities? Do they use context?