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Silicon Valley, The Root Of Tech’s Diversity Problem: Introducing Lena (Part 2)

JPEG, or Joint Photographic Experts Group (the organization that created the standard for the file type), was created and revolutionized by the image of one woman—Playboy centerfold feature, Lena Söderberg.

Image result for Lena Söderberg playboy centerfold

Featured in the November 1972 edition of Playboy, the Swedish model appeared on the centerfold image under the name Lenna Sjööblom, and from then on, that same image would go onto revolutionize digital photography.

Now famously known as “Lenna,” a cropped version of the centerfold was used to illustrate the capabilities of image-processing algorithms in 1973 by a group of graduate students and professors at the University of Southern California. Since then, the scanned image of Lena has become one of the most used image in the history of the Internet and helped transform our computerized images. But has the image also aided in the hindrance of women in the technology industry?

The use of this image has seen its share of [rightful] criticism over the past few decades, with many calling it one of the original reasons that women have such a hard time being taken seriously in the tech community. In a 1999 essay, Dianne P. O’Leary, mathematician and computer scientist, wrote, “Suggestive pictures used in lectures on image processing…convey the message that the lecturer caters to the males only. For example, it is amazing that the “Lena” pin-up image is still used as an example in courses and published as a test image in journals today.” Many people are even starting to use other images in place of hers, despite the historical importance

A lot of controversy remains around the image: does the picture’s historical value surmount the fact that it’s still a picture of a nude woman? I say, for now, let’s leave the past in the past and use some more recent pictures—we have way better camera quality now anyway.