RIP, Robert Taylor, The Innovator Who Shaped Modern Computing

“Any way you look at it, from kick-starting the Internet to launching the personal computer revolution, Bob Taylor was a key architect of our modern world,” says a historian at Stanford’s Silicon Valley Archives. An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times:
The Internet, like many inventions, was the work of many inventors. But perhaps no one deserves more credit for that world-changing technological leap than Mr. Taylor. The seminal moment of his work came in 1966. He had just taken a new position at the Pentagon — director of the Information Processing Techniques Office, part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as Arpa — and on his first day on the job it became immediately obvious to him what the office lacked and what it needed. At the time, Arpa was funding three separate computer research projects and using three separate computer terminals to communicate with them. Mr. Taylor said, No, we need a single computer research network, to connect each project with the others, to enable each to communicate with the others… His idea led to the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet.
A half-decade later, at Xerox’s storied Palo Alto Research Center, Mr. Taylor was instrumental in another technological breakthrough: funding the design of the Alto computer, which is widely viewed as the forerunner of the modern personal computer. Mr. Taylor even had a vital role in the invention of the computer mouse. In 1961, at the dawn of the Space Age, he was about a year into his job as a project manager at NASA in Washington when he learned about the work of a young computer scientist at Stanford Research Institute, later called SRI International… Mr. Taylor decided to pump more money into the work, and the financial infusion led directly to Engelbart’s invention of the mouse, a computer control technology that would be instrumental in the design of both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows-based computers.
Taylor had become fascinated with human-computer interactions in the 1950s during his graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, and was “appalled” that performing data calculations required submitting his punch cards to a technician running the school’s mainframe computers. Years later, it was Taylor’s group at PARC that Steve Jobs visited in 1979, which inspired the “desktop” metaphor for the Macintosh’s graphical user interface. And Charles Simonyi eventually left PARC to join Microsoft, where he developed the Office suite of applications.
Taylor died Thursday at his home in Woodside, California, from complications of Parkinson’s disease, at the age of 85.


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