Monday, February 15, 2016

Spread Spectrum and Pin-up Girl Hedy Lamarr

Posted By: The Mail Man - Monday, February 15, 2016

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In 1933, The Ecstasy was filmed and shown in Austria, it included a nude scene of Austrian actress Hedwig Eva Marie Keisler and since it was 1933, it was considered scandalous in Roman Catholic Austria and the raucous goosestepping Brownshirts who are used to the cabarets of Berlin were a few years away with their Anschluss. Thus, a star was born. Eight years later the  “scandalous” actress was in the United States in the middle of a World War and patenting a “Secret Communications System” that will help in fighting the Nazis.

Being an actress of “note”,  Eva Keisler became the “trophy wife” of Jewish business magnate Fritz Mandl who illegally sold weapons to (irony of ironies) the Nazi and Fascist regimes of Germany and Italy.

But having to be the trophy wife of a business magnate stalled her movie career. Her social life was restricted to the business socials of her husband. This proved to be both a bane and a boon for Eva. Being present in all those meetings of the military-industrial complex, Eva was able to listen in and absorb the ideas being floated and flouted around. During those times, being a beautiful woman denoted a poor mind, thus such secrets flowed freely in conversations where she is present.

But eventually, Eva felt imprisoned and escaped to the United States. She resumed her career in Hollywood in 1937 and took on the screen name Hedy Lamarr. Now that name rings a bell! But why would Google pay tribute to an actress of a bygone era?

Having resumed her career, she met George Antheil, composer and pianist. Antheil was a pioneer in mechanized music and together with Lamarr used the concept of the pianola to  emulate frequency hopping principles in wireless communications. Butthe government at that time never saw the potential of wireless communications and could not accept that bright ideas would come from beautiful women.

The only decades later when the patent expired did the full potential of her discovery was used. It was utilized by US Navy ships and US Ballistic Missile Communications systems in the Cuban Missile Crisis wherein nascent digital technology based on “Spread Spectrum”  was used that the Soviets did not have at the time.

It was also one of the building blocks of President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield Research that included communications technology and eventually evolved into our digital communications today that includes cellular phones and other wireless applications and operations and yes, that includes WiFi.

Recognition came very much later where Hedy Lamarr was honoured for her groundbreakinginvention in 1997. Together with Athneil, honor was bestowed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award and in the same year, Lamarr became the first female to be awarded the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, the Oscars of Inventing.

As is the case with many of the famous women inventors, Lamarr received very little recognition of her innovative talent at the time, but recently she has been showered with praise for her groundbreaking invention. In 1997, she and George Anthiel were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. And later in the same year, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed "The Oscar™ of Inventing."

Proving she was much more than just another pretty face, Lamarr shattered stereotypes and earned a place among the 20th century's most important women inventors. She truly was a visionary whose technological acumen was far ahead of its time.





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