Black History in Tech

Black History Month is here! This month our UBC IT Communications team will be focusing on understanding the impact of Black history through a lens of technological advancements. This week, we look at two impactful innovators who have had major influence on advancing technology: Marie Van Brittan who laid a major foundation for home security systems, and Alan Emtage who created the first search engine.  


Home Security Systems by Marie Van Brittan

In 1966, due to a high crime rate in the Queens neighborhood of New York, Marie Van Brittan Brown, with the help of her husband Albert Brown, revolutionized home security by inventing the first-ever home security system. This invention not only addressed their immediate safety concerns but also laid the foundation for the technological landscape we see today.  

Although this invention was born out of necessity, it transcended its initial purpose and became a trailblazer for various modern security technologies. Brown's visionary system laid the groundwork for advancements such as video monitoring, remote-controlled locks, push-button alarms, instant messaging to security providers, and two-way voice communication. 

Marie Van Brittan Brown's legacy serves as a reminder of the intersectionality inherent in innovation, showcasing the profound impact that Black inventors have had on the evolution of technology and its integration into our daily lives.  

Read more about Marie Van Brittan on 

Search Engines by Alan Emtage

As we celebrate Black History Month, we would like to continue to amplify Black voices, talents, and work in relation to the history of technology. To begin our celebration series, we would like to spotlight Alan Emtage, a 2022 McGill Honorary Doctorate recipient of Doctor of Science, honoris causa (D.Sc.) While attending McGill, he recognized a challenge with the rise of the internet in archiving content. This encouraged him to create the world’s first search engine: ARCHIE (a name simply derived from the word archive).  In an era where googling has become synonymous with online searches, it is important to remember Emtage’s contribution to “pre-Google" history.  

After his time at McGill, Emtage, alongside Peter J. Deutsch, co-founded Bunyip Information Systems, Inc., a company dedicated to Internet information services. Alan continued to play a pivotal role in the evolution of Web technologies, contributing as a founding member of the Internet Society. His leadership extended to the Internet Engineering Task Force, where he chaired working groups, including the one responsible for standardizing Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) – the fundamental means by which we access websites today. In the 90s, through his Web development company, he devoted free resources, to empower major LGBT organizations in the United States to establish and maintain an online presence.  

As we celebrate Black History Month, we would like to spotlight Alan Emtage’s ingenuity and recognize how his pioneering work continues to resonate in the very fabric of our interconnected online world. His work stands as a testament to the intersectionality between Black History and technology, as it shows how innovation can always shape the digital landscape for the greater good.  

Read more about Alan Emtage at McGill 

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