Robert Taylor (computer scientist)

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Robert William Taylor
Bob Taylor
Robert William Taylor in 2008
Born (1932-02-10)February 10, 1932
Dallas, Texas, United States
Died April 13, 2017(2017-04-13) (aged 85)
Woodside, California, United States
Alma mater Southern Methodist University
University of Texas
Known for Internet pioneer
Computer networking & Communication systems
Modern personal computing
Children Derek Taylor
Erik Taylor
Kurt Taylor
Awards ACM Software Systems Award (1984)
ACM Fellow (1994)
National Medal of Technology and Innovation (1999)
Charles Stark Draper Prize (2004)
Computer History Museum Fellow (2013) [1]
Scientific career
Fields Computer science
Institutions ARPA
Xerox PARC
Digital Equipment Corporation

Robert William Taylor (February 10, 1932 – April 13, 2017), known as Bob Taylor, was an American Internet pioneer, who led teams that made major contributions to the personal computer, and other related technologies. He was director of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office from 1965 through 1969, founder and later manager of Xerox PARC's Computer Science Laboratory from 1970 through 1983, and founder and manager of Digital Equipment Corporation's Systems Research Center until 1996.[2]

His awards include the National Medal of Technology and Innovation and the Draper Prize.[3] Taylor was known for his high-level vision: "The Internet is not about technology; it's about communication. The Internet connects people who have shared interests, ideas and needs, regardless of geography."[3]

Early life[edit]

Robert W. Taylor was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1932,[4] his adoptive father, Rev. Raymond Taylor, was a Methodist minister who held degrees from Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin and Yale Divinity School. The family (including Taylor's adoptive mother, Audrey) was highly itinerant during Taylor's childhood, moving from parish to parish. Having skipped several grades as a result of his enrollment in an experimental school, he began his higher education at Southern Methodist University at the age of 16; while there, he was "not a serious student" but "had a good time."[5] He then served a stint in the United States Navy Reserve during the Korean War (1952-1954) before returning to his studies at the University of Texas at Austin under the GI Bill. At UT he was a "professional student," he says, taking courses for pleasure, he finally put them together for an undergraduate degree in experimental psychology (1957),[6] with minors in mathematics, philosophy, English and religion. While Taylor was trained as an experimental psychologist and mathematician, his earliest career was devoted to brain research and the auditory nervous system.

He subsequently earned a master's degree in psychology from Texas in 1959[6] before electing not to pursue a PhD in the field; according to Taylor, "I had a teaching assistantship in the department, and they were urging me to get a PhD, but to get a PhD in psychology in those days, maybe still today, you have to qualify and take courses in abnormal psychology, social psychology, clinical psychology, child psychology, none of which I was interested in. Those are all sort of in the softer regions of psychology. They’re not very scientific, they’re not very rigorous. I was interested in physiological psychology, in psychoacoustics or the portion of psychology which deals with science, the nervous system, things that are more like applied physics and biology, really, than they are what normally people think of when they think of psychology. So I didn’t want to waste time taking courses in those other areas and so I said I’m not going to get a PhD."[5]

After leaving Texas, Taylor taught math and coached basketball for a year at Howey Academy, a co-ed prep school in Florida. "I had a wonderful time but was very poor, with a second child — who turned out to be twins — on the way," he recalled.

Taylor took engineering jobs with aircraft companies at better salaries, he helped to design the MGM-31 Pershing as a senior systems engineer for defense contractor Martin Marietta (1960-1961) in Orlando, Florida. In 1962, he was invited to join NASA's Office of Advanced Research and Technology as a program manager assigned to the manned flight control and display division after submitting a research proposal for a flight control simulation display.

Computer career[edit]

Taylor worked for NASA in Washington, D.C. while the Kennedy administration was backing scientific projects such as the Apollo program for a manned moon landing. In late 1962 Taylor met J. C. R. Licklider, who was heading the new Information Processing Techniques Office of the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) of the United States Department of Defense. Licklider had done his graduate work in psychoacoustics as had Taylor, and published an article in March 1960, "Man-Computer Symbiosis," envisioning new ways to use computers,[7] this work was an influential roadmap in the history of the internet and the personal computer, and greatly influenced Taylor.[8] He met another visionary, Douglas Engelbart, at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California. Taylor directed funding to Engelbart's studies of computer-display technology at SRI that led to the computer mouse, the public demonstration of a mouse-based user interface was later called "the Mother of All Demos." At the Fall 1968 Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, Engelbart, Bill English, Jeff Rulifson and the rest of the Human Augmentation Research Center team at SRI showed on a big screen how he could manipulate a computer remotely located in Menlo Park, while sitting on a San Francisco stage, using his mouse.[9]

ARPA[edit]

In 1965 Taylor moved from NASA to ARPA, first as a deputy to Ivan Sutherland to fund a few large programs in advanced research in computing at major universities and corporate research centers throughout the United States, among the computer projects that ARPA supported was time-sharing, in which many users could work at terminals to share a single large computer. Users could work interactively instead of using punched cards or punched tape in a batch processing style. Taylor's office in the Pentagon had a terminal connected to time-sharing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a terminal connected to the Berkeley Timesharing System at the University of California, Berkeley, and a third terminal to the System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, California. He noticed each system developed a community of users, but was isolated from the other communities.[9]

Taylor hoped to build a computer network to connect the ARPA-sponsored projects together, if nothing else, to let him communicate to all of them through one terminal. Sutherland returned to a teaching position, and by June 1966 Taylor was officially director of Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) where he directed the ARPANET project until 1969.[10] Taylor had convinced ARPA's Director Charles M. Herzfeld to fund a network project earlier in February 1966, and Herzfeld transferred a million dollars from a ballistic missile defense program to Taylor's budget.[11] Taylor hired Lawrence G. Roberts from MIT Lincoln Laboratory to be its first program manager. Roberts first resisted moving to Washington DC, until Herzfeld reminded the director of Lincoln Laboratory that ARPA dominated its funding.[12] Licklider continued to provide guidance, and Wesley A. Clark suggested the use of a dedicated computer, called the Interface Message Processor at each node of the network instead of centralized control. At the 1967 ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles, a member of Donald Davies' team (Roger Scantlebury) at the National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom) presented their research on packet switching and suggested it for use in the ARPANET.[13][14] ARPA issued a request for quotation (RFQ) to build the system, which was awarded to Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN). ATT Bell Labs and IBM Research were invited to join, but were not interested, at a pivotal meeting in 1967 most participants resisted testing the new network; they thought it would slow down their research.

A second paper, "The Computer as a Communication Device" published in 1968 by Licklider and Taylor, lays out the future of what the Internet would eventually become,[15] their paper starts out: "In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face."[15]

At some point Taylor was sent by ARPA to investigate inconsistent reports coming from the Vietnam War. Only about 35 years old, he was given the military rank equivalent to his civilian position: brigadier general, and made several trips to the area, he helped set up a computer center at the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam base in Saigon. In his words: "After that the White House got a single report rather than several, that pleased them; whether the data was any more correct or not, I don't know, but at least it was more consistent."[12] The Vietnam project took him away from directing research, and "by 1969 I knew ARPAnet would work. So I wanted to leave."[12] For about a year Taylor joined Sutherland and David C. Evans at the University of Utah, where he had funded a center for research on computer graphics while at ARPA.

In 1970 Taylor moved to Palo Alto, California, for his next historic job.

Xerox[edit]

Jerome I. Elkind from BBN was hired by George Pake to co-manage the Computer Systems Laboratory (CSL) at the new Palo Alto Research Center of Xerox Corporation.[16] Taylor assumed he would run day-to-day operations, while Elkind assumed Taylor would be associate director.

Technologies developed at PARC between 1970 and 1983 focused on reaching beyond ARPAnet to develop what has become the Internet, and the systems that support today's personal computers, they included:

  • Powerful personal computers (the Xerox Alto) with windowed displays and graphical user interfaces that were the basis of the Macintosh. Taylor's team built the computer itself, while a group led by Alan Kay added the software-based "desktop" metaphor.[17]
  • Ethernet, which networks local computers within a building or campus; and the first Internet, a network that connected the Ethernet to the ARPAnet utilizing PUP (PARC Universal Protocol), forerunner to TCP/IP.
  • The electronics and software that led to the laser printer and the graphical programs that allowed John Warnock and Chuck Geschke to take off and found Adobe Systems.
  • "What-you-see-is-what-you-get" (WYSIWYG) word-processing programs, such as Bravo that Charles Simonyi took to Microsoft to serve as the basis for Microsoft Word.

Taylor was noted for leading a weekly discussion of computer scientists at PARC, who would take turns leading a discussion about myriad topics, they would sit in a circle of beanbag chairs and open debate was encouraged.

Elkind was involved in a number of corporate and government projects, after one of Elkind's extended absences, Taylor became the official manager of the laboratory in early 1978. In 1983, integrated circuit specialist William J. Spencer became director of PARC. Spencer and Taylor disagreed about budget allocations for CSL and what was the most important research to pursue at PARC (computer science versus physics for example) and CSL's frustration with Xerox's inability to recognize and use what they had developed. Taylor and most of the researchers at CSL left Xerox.

DEC SRC[edit]

Taylor was hired by Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation, and formed the Systems Research Center in Palo Alto. Many of the former CSL researchers came to work at SRC, among the projects at SRC were the Modula-3 programming language; the snoopy cache, used in the Firefly multiprocessor workstation; the first multi-threaded Unix system; the first User Interface editor; the AltaVista search engine[18] and a networked Window System.

Retirement and death[edit]

Taylor retired in 1996 and lived in Woodside, California, until his death; in 2000 he voiced two concerns about the future of the Internet: control and access. In his words:

There are many worse ways of endangering a larger number of people on the Internet than on the highway. It's possible for people to generate networks that reproduce themselves and are very difficult or impossible to kill off. I want everyone to have the right to use it, but there's got to be some way to insure responsibility.

Will it be freely available to everyone? If not, it will be a big disappointment.[3]

On April 13, 2017, he died at his home in Woodside, California, his son said he had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other health problems.[19]

Awards[edit]

In 1984, Taylor, Butler Lampson, and Charles P. Thacker received the ACM Software Systems Award "For conceiving and guiding the development of the Xerox Alto System demonstrating that a distributed personal computer system can provide a desirable and practical alternative to time-sharing."[20] In 1994, all three were named ACM Fellows in recognition of the same work;[21] in 1999, Taylor received a National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The citation read "For visionary leadership in the development of modern computing technology, including computer networks, the personal computer and the graphical user interface."[22]

In 2004, the National Academy of Engineering awarded him along with Lampson, Thacker and Alan Kay their highest award, the Draper Prize. The citation reads: "for the vision, conception, and development of the first practical networked personal computers.[23]"

In 2013, the Computer History Museum named him a Museum Fellow, "for his leadership in the development of computer networking, online information and communications systems, and modern personal computing."[24]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Hall of Fellows - Computer History Museum". 
  2. ^ John Naughton (October 5, 2000). A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet. Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-1093-4. 
  3. ^ a b c Marion Softky (October 11, 2000). "Building the Internet: Bob Taylor won the National Medal of Technology "For visionary leadership in the development of modern computing technology"". The California Almanac. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  4. ^ Gary Susswein (September 14, 2009). "Internet and use of the computer as communication device the 1960s brainchild of psychology alum". University of Texas Alumni profile. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Oral_History/Taylor_Robert/102702015.05.01.acc.pdf
  6. ^ a b "Marquis Biographies Online". 
  7. ^ J. C. R. Licklider (March 1960). "Man-Computer Symbiosis". IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics. HFE-1: 4–11. doi:10.1109/thfe2.1960.4503259. 
  8. ^ Markoff, John, Innovator who helped create PC, Internet and mouse, New York Times, April 15, 2017, pA14
  9. ^ a b John Markoff (December 20, 1999). "An Internet Pioneer Ponders the Next Revolution". New York Times. 
  10. ^ Lyon, Matthew; Hafner, Katie (1999-08-19). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet (p. 12). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition "1965 to 1969"
  11. ^ Markoff, John, Innovator who helped create PC, Internet and the mouse, New York Times, April 15, 2017, p.A1
  12. ^ a b c "Oral history interview with Robert William Taylor". Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota. Retrieved April 1, 2011. 
  13. ^ Isaacson, Walter (2014). The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Simon & Schuster. p. 237. ISBN 9781476708690. 
  14. ^ Robert Taylor (November 22, 2001), "Birthing the Internet: Letters From the Delivery Room; Disputing a Claim", New York Times, Authors who have interviewed dozens of Arpanet pioneers know very well that the Kleinrock-Roberts claims are not believed. 
  15. ^ a b J. C. R. Licklider; Robert Taylor (April 1968). "The Computer as a Communication Device". Science and Technology. 
  16. ^ Butler Lampson (January 1986). "Personal Distributed Computing: The Alto and Ethernet Software". ACM Conference on the History of Personal Workstations. Palo Alto. 
  17. ^ Markoff, John, Innovator who helped create PC, Internet and mouse, New York Times, April 15, 2017, p.A14
  18. ^ Markoff, John, Innovator who helped create the PC, Internet and the mouse, New York Times, April 15, 2017, p.A14
  19. ^ "Robert W. Taylor, a pioneer of the modern computer, dies at 85". Los Angeles Times. 14 April 2017. 
  20. ^ "ACM Software System Award Winners". Retrieved April 18, 2017. 
  21. ^ "Robert W. Taylor ACM Awards". Retrieved April 18, 2017. 
  22. ^ "The National Medal of Technology and Innovation Recipients". US Patent and Trademark Office. 1999. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Robert W. Taylor profile on NAE Website". Retrieved April 18, 2017. 
  24. ^ CHM. "Robert W. Taylor — CHM Fellow Award Winner". Retrieved March 30, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]