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Robert W. Taylor, who was instrumental in creating the internet and the modern personal computer, has died. He was 85.
Taylor, who had Parkinson’s disease, died on Thursday at his home in Woodside – a small San Mateo town on the San Francisco Peninsula.
In 1961, Taylor was a project manager for NASA when he directed funding to Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute, who helped develop the modern computer mouse.
Taylor was working for the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1966 when he led the creation of a single computer network to link ARPA-sponsored researchers at companies and institutions around the country.
Taylor was frustrated that he had to use three separate terminals to communicate with the researchers through their computer systems.
ARPAnet, as it was known, evolved into the internet. As Taylor prophesied, the limited communications tool morphed into a system that supplies people with fingertip access to everything from encyclopaedias to investment advice.
A few years later, Taylor went on to work at the Xerox Corp.’s famous Palo Alto Research Centre, or PARC, where he was oversaw a team that helped create the Alto, a pioneering personal computer.
The Alto supplied each researcher with an individual workstation instead of sharing time on a room-sized mainframe. It was designed to use a graphical user interface, which enabled the user to command the device through icons, windows and menus instead of typing text commands in computer language.
The technology inspired Microsoft’s Windows software and the Apple computers.
Taylor’s engineering team also helped develop the Ethernet and a word processing program that became Microsoft Word.
“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,” Leslie Berlin, a historian at the Stanford University Silicon Valley Archives project, told the New York Times.
Determining which individual/s invented the internet is a contentious issue as much of the technology evolved over time with various key pioneers each having their own hand in its evolution. Vint Cerf, Robert E. Kahn and Tim Berners-Lee are widely accepted as being instrumental and viewed as founders of the internet.
It’s certainly true that the Internet took off after it was privatised in 1995. But to be privatised, first you have to be government-owned. It’s another testament to people often demeaned as “government bureaucrats” that they saw that the moment had come to set their baby free.
The bottom line is that the Internet as we know it was indeed born as a government project. In fact, without ARPA and Bob Taylor, it could not have come into existence. Private enterprise had no interest in something so visionary and complex, with questionable commercial opportunities. Indeed, the private corporation that then owned monopoly control over America’s communications network, AT&T, fought tooth and nail against the ARPANet. Luckily for us, a far-sighted government agency prevailed.
In 1999, Taylor was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. In 2004, he and other PARC researchers were awarded the Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering for development of “the first practical networked personal computers.”
In the 1990s, Taylor ran the Systems Research Center in Palo Alto for Digital Equipment Corporation. The lab helped create AltaVista, one of the first internet search engines and I am going to show my age here but it was the search engine I used during my first year at college.
Taylor retired in 1996 and he is survived by his sons Kurt, Erik and Derek and three grandchildren.
Rest in Peace Robert….
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