This week's Question of the Day hosts are Shamika Cardozo-Acuna and Matisse Fletcher of Living Computers: Museum + Lab, the world's largest collection of restored and usable supercomputers, mainframes, minicomputers and microcomputers.
This weekend, they are hosting Swipe Right: Modern Valentine, a program at LCM+L that will include the story of online dating pioneer Joan Ball, a keynote address from Siren's Susie Lee, and finally, a tech & love burlesque show.
Tickets to Swipe Right: Modern Valentine are $12 at the door. Half-price tickets are available for the first 10 Siren members to RSVP by email.
We asked Shamika and Matisse some interview questions in advance of this exciting event. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about the mission of Living Computers: Museum + Labs! How did the collection get started, and how did you get involved?
Matisse: The museum was around for years as a storage facility before it opened as a museum in 2012. Its founder, Paul Allen, wanted guests to interact with history and learn about the origins of technology that shapes our society. Since then it’s grown exponentially, to incorporate robotics, AI, and unique programming and events. As for me, I joined in December of 2015 as Events & Outreach Coordinator and have been working to create events that align with the museum’s mission around inclusivity and creative empowerment.
We're looking forward Swipe Right: Modern Valentine! Can you give us a little sneak preview of what you have prepared for this event?
We’re really excited for our event for many reasons. I mean, there’s going to be a bacon bar. I might be looking forward to that a little too much… We have a great spread of activities as well; we have something for history buffs, tech heads, and burlies!
We’ll learn about the originator of online dating, Joan Ball. The story of how she was tracked down is just as fascinating as the story of her matchmaking! We’re honored to have your very own Susie Lee join us as keynote before we wind up the show with a burlesque performance about tech and love! Throughout the event there will be streaming podcasts and a chance for guests to test the original matchmaking technology from the 1960s, LCM+L style!
One thing we were surprised to learn is that Joan Ball was the first person of any gender to run a commercially viable computer dating service in either the US or the UK. Why do you think her contributions to the field aren't as well known as, say, Operation Match at Harvard?
Shamika: The reason Joan Ball's contributions to field aren't well known is the same reason why Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson weren't well known until Hidden Figures. History is told by the winners and as it turns out, many of the winners are white men. Joan ran three businesses from the early 60s to the early 70s and during the latter part of her career she only had one true competitor--Dateline, which was run by John Patterson. She did have a business partner, a boyfriend, and he provided the seed money for the business, but Joan oversaw all decision making. In 1973, Joan was a single woman in debt due to an economic recession, coupled with her ex-boyfriend taking most of the profits, she was forced to sell her business to Dateline. Dateline, with a better computer program and 50,000 new members, continued to grow and remained a successful dating service well into the 90s.
Another reason why I think Joan was overshadowed is that Operation Match, in the U.S. and U.K., were run by men who were looking for sex and not partnership. With men running the show, the implication was that you would paid $3 and this computer program will show you a couple of people you should have sex with. What a deal! Joan's services were never about sex; they were about companionship. To quote Joan during our interview, "Sex is overrated. Everybody does it".
OK, now we're gonna ask you one of the questions you wrote for Siren: What is your dream piece of technology that has yet to be invented?
Matisse: This is totally cliché, but the dream tech I want is JARVIS. They’re already working on similar tech, and obviously we’re seeing the precursor in products like Alexa/Echo and Google Home. But unless I feel just like Tony Stark, it's not enough!
Shamika: I don't have a dream piece of technology. I do, however, have a dream for technology and that is biomimicry. Biomimicry is an approach to innovation by emulating or mimicking patterns and systems that exist in nature. Nature is the perfect design and only now our modern world is borrowing ideas. One exciting project that Qualcomm MEMS Technologies is doing is studying how butterfly wings reflect light and how to improve colored displays on e-readers. This technology will dramatically improve battery life and can be use in bright sunlight and wouldn't need LCD. It's a really cool concept.