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What if the internet was run by women?

On the night of 29 October 1969, 21-year-old student Charley Kline sat hunched over a computer screen in a windowless room with pistachio-coloured walls at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As his computer science supervisor Leonard Kleinrock looked on, Kline carefully typed out a single word. Moments later, on a screen some 350 miles (560km) away at Stanford University, Kline’s message popped up: “Lo” it read.

It was a sputtering start (the system crashed before Kline’s full message of “Login” could be transmitted) but both sides cheered: it was the first time two computers had communicated virtually. And it marked the birth of what would become the internet.

Back then it was called the Arpanet – a communications system conceived by the US Department of Defense to allow information to be shared between computers on a network. Some fifty years on, the internet has matured from an experimental military infancy consisting of just four computers into a civilian and commercial adulthood that forms a vast global cyberspace.

To create the technology that lets you read these words on your screen today, thousands of people were involved. Many of them were women, including Radia Perlman (an American engineer and mathematician who helped make internet routing reliable and scalable), Karen Spärck Jones (the British computer scientist whose work underpins most search engines) and her compatriot Sophie Wilson (who was instrumental in designing the BBC Micro and the ARM microprocessors found in more than half the world’s electronics today).

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