Women Invent the Future

Illustration by Elin Matilda Andersson

Women Invent the Future is an experimental anthology written by women, and published by Doteveryone, to challenge how technology is imagined. Technology should represent and include more people; new myths, stories and cliches can help to create a culture where that is possible.

The book features six stories and one poem by Madeline Ashby, Anne Charnock, Molly Flatt, Cassandra Khaw, Becky Chambers, Liz Williams and Walidah Imarisha, with a foreword by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

You can download a free ebook from our website.

The anthology forms part of Doteveryone’s Ctrl+F programme of work which aims to create a culture where more women and girls can succeed as inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. We want to share the stories as far and wide as possible — and we’d love your help. Read the book, talk about it on Twitter, and share it with your friends, your family, your co-workers.

We’re also sending free copies to people who need to read these alternative visions of the future. Nominate people (especially men in the tech sector!) who need to see what it looks like when women invent the future.

Send us your nominations via Twitter @doteveryoneuk or via email: [email protected].

Reality these days can be hard to distinguish from science fiction.

A handful of Silicon Valley companies have the power and agency of nation states. In China it is becoming possible for citizens’ jobs and education to be allocated by their ‘Social Credit Score’. Data profiling has affected election outcomes. And tech entrepreneurs have serious plans to build colonies on Mars.

So it’s no wonder much new technology feels eerily familiar: we’ve seen a lot of it before.

Science fiction has a long relationship to science fact.

As long ago as the 1870s, Jules Verne imagined electric submarines, space travel and video conferencing. In telling stories about these fantastical inventions, the worlds they existed in, and the people who used them, he helped make them possible.

The engineer Martin Cooper has cited both the Star Trek Communicator and detective Dick Tracey’s wrist radio as inspiring him to create the mobile phone. William Gibson’s Neuromancer pre-dated the World Wide Web by just four years, and set out the “consensual hallucination” we have shared ever since. And in 2018 Elon Musk is making a real-world version of Neural Lace, Iain M. Banks’ brain-machine interface from the Culture novels.

Dick Tracey and the Apple Watch. Image by Alan Levine

Science fiction also influences how many of us use and understand technology.

Our mental models of robots are based on the androids from Metropolis and Star Wars; the 1s and 0s of The Matrix are as good a reference as any other for what cyberspace might be; and Tom Cruise’s swooshy arm movements in Minority Report showed how we might navigate a touch-screen world. Our reality is changing incredibly quickly, and relatable stories help us to make better sense of it.

One notable thing these very influential stories have in common is that they were all written by men.

Technology is changing how many of us live, love, learn and earn. But ironically for an industry that prides itself on disruption, it is built on traditional power structures and assumes men’s norms are cultural norms. Many products and services we use every day have sexist assumptions baked into them: the subservient voice interfaces that use women’s names and voices, and don’t ever need to be thanked; the social media platforms that treat harassment as a bug not an everyday fact of women’s lives; the algorithms that show men ads for higher-paying jobs; and the health-trackers that make it easy to compete but impossible to track periods or ovulation — all put men’s priorities before women’s.

This in part because of the gender imbalance in the industry. In the UK, women make up only 19% of the tech workforce and, according to the Equality of Opportunity project, it will take 118 years to get to gender parity in innovation.

And it has taken a long time for women technologists’ achievements to be recognised — let alone celebrated. Marie Hicks’ Programmed Inequality tells how gender discrimination after World War II led to the demise of the British computing industry; Dame Stephanie Shirley went by the name “Steve” while she set up her Freelance Computing business; and the “human computers” who helped to win the space race — among them Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — worked in the background for many years before their stories were celebrated.

Print advertisement created by DDB, Germany for Stabilo Boss

Doteveryone champions responsible technology for the good of everyone in society — and to be responsible, the technology industry must represent the people it’s serving.

Gender equality is a vital first step towards that.

It’s not just a matter of getting more women into technology jobs. If women are to stay in those jobs, then the culture needs to change too. And rather than insisting on changing women, we can change how technology is imagined: the myths, stories and cliches that help to create technology can start to include and represent more of us.

There is, of course, much wonderful science fiction by women; Mary Shelley, after all, invented the genre. But men don’t tend read books by women; in 2014, the Goodreads Survey found that men were only 20% of women authors’ readership, while male authors attracted men and women in equal numbers. So as well as creating this book, we’ll be sending it to influential men in technology: to some of the investors, entrepreneurs, engineers, analysts and journalists who are the gatekeepers of the industry as we know it.

This anthology shows different futures and different kinds of consequences.

It reimagines space travel, fertility and productivity; shows alternative realities for dating and family life; and imagines what emancipation and equality could look like. One of these stories might change a mind or plant a seed.

After all, women have been inventing the future since it began. We’re not going to stop now.

Women Invent the Future was originally published by Doteveryone on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.