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RIP, Robert Taylor, The Innovator Who Shaped Modern Computing (sfgate.com) 37

"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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RIP, Robert Taylor, The Innovator Who Shaped Modern Computing

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  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Saturday April 15, 2017 @02:43PM (#54240543) Homepage Journal
    Truly an innovator. There are many great people in computing.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      And it is nice to see the word 'innovator' used in the proper context and applied to an individual who is actually an innovator here on Slashdot.

      Unfortunately, it has has become just a label for self promoting Silicon Valley hucksters.

      • Unfortunately, "innovation" and "disruptive" are two words that every tech company (or STEM faculty member) feels compelled to use whenever they're describing some minor iteration on existing tech they've come up with nowadays. But a guy like Robert Taylor really does deserve the accolades.

      • it is nice to see the word 'innovator' used in the proper context and applied to an individual who is actually an innovator here on Slashdot. Unfortunately, it has has become just a label for self promoting Silicon Valley hucksters.

        And "innovate" is Microsoft newspeak for "flout anti-trust law". It is sad that Microsoft ended up using Simonyi's work to stall operating system progress for a decade.

    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Saturday April 15, 2017 @05:28PM (#54241155)

      This guy sort of sounds like the Forest Gump of computing project management. He's there at the scene for all the really big turning points. The one that made my jaw drop was after inciting arapnet he then funded Doug Englebart.

      Somedays I feel like anyone allowed to post on slashdot needs to show they have watched Doug Englebarts "mother of all Demos". My world view changed after that. It's like nothing actually changed in the last 30 years, we just had to wait for consumer hardware to catch up to Doug's dreams.

      Seriously, basically everything we consider modern computing was invented on that demo day, from streaming video, to simultaneous multi-user text editing, to the mouse, to windows, to the graphical text editor. No exaggerations.

      • It's like nothing actually changed in the last 30 years, we just had to wait for consumer hardware to catch up to Doug's dreams.

        And we still haven't caught up with Alan Turing, or Charles Babbage for that matter.

      • "The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed." - William F. Gibson.
      • by mikael ( 484 )

        We didn't get the video framebuffer until 1978. Displays were formed by using metal stencils placed inside a CRT and activating the relevant character while the electron beam was scanning. Computer memory was extremely expensive, but the bits-per-dollar price was doubling every decade, and still is. The first electric typewriter had been around since 1915, so keyboards had already been around. It was always the dream of sci-fi to be able to make video calls from mobile devices, but we had to wait until info

      • by doom ( 14564 )

        Somedays I feel like anyone allowed to post on slashdot needs to show they have watched Doug Englebarts "mother of all Demos"

        Or just read a book (or two) about Englebart and what he was up to-- the usual tag-line, "inventor of the mouse", doesn't get any where near describing what Englebart actually did. While the computer science intelligensia was lost in dreams of Artificial Intelligence, Englebart went after a vision of computers as interactive partners to human beings. He started working in the dir

  • ... since those heady days. Peer-to-peer interoperation, network capable displays, minimal dependence on centralized infrastructure. Now that is all prima facie evidence that you are either stealing some corporation's content or their ability to collect per-seat licenses for their products.

    • ... since those heady days.

      Case in point: over 500 comments to the Burker King voice activation article; a bit over 20 to this one. Hmm. Why is it so hard to keep the phrase "dogs watching television" from coming to mind?

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        500 comments to the Burker King voice activation article

        Bandwidth that could have been used for Kardashian tweets. For shame.

  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Saturday April 15, 2017 @03:09PM (#54240651)

    And today we stand on the shoulders of the giants. Building on the foundation they laid. Rest in peace Robert Taylor, to be remembered far longer than the average man.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 15, 2017 @03:11PM (#54240657)

    I had the honor of meeting him once: late 1990s while working @ DEC. Our group had a number of advanced development collaboration projects with DEC-SRC, and I met him while collaborating with various of the researchers there. Including Chuck Thacker, Dick Sites, and multiple early employees @ Google (recruited from DEC). Absolutely a very nice fellow. The world is definitely a much smaller place without him and his endeavors.

    My best to to his relatives.

  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Saturday April 15, 2017 @03:20PM (#54240705)

    Is this like one of Al Gore's aliases or something?

  • From TFA:

    “He liked the idea immediately, and he took a million dollars out of the ballistic missile defense budget and put it into my budget right then and there.” He added, “The first funding came that month.”

    His idea led to the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet.

    So from there, the first steps of one of the most important revolutions in human communication in history, to the mass stupidification of the internet and turning a potential tool for freedom into a tool for oppression and social control.

    I wonder if he was dismayed at the sheer magnitude of lost potential. Dismayed at the direction humanity chose to take his work, as end user control is constantly chipped away and everything gets recentralized so that a few governments and companies can control an

  • I had the (shall I say it) honor of working directly with Vint Cerf at MCI back in the early 90's, part of the triad or more that formed the earliest foundations. We had some interesting conversations.

  • "Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age" by Michael A. Hiltzik https://www.goodreads.com/book... [goodreads.com]
  • For a second, I thought Rip Taylor [wikipedia.org] died. That would also be tragic.

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