Tech luminaries we lost in 2016

We say a fond farewell to 18 men and women who left a lasting impression on the tech industry.

In Memoriam
Getty Images / IDG

In 2016, the world got a little bit smaller as we said goodbye to many of the tech industry's founders. Yet those innovators left behind legacies and technology that brought us all closer — whether it's the internet we use daily, digital artwork that inspires us or a futuristic vision we still strive to realize. They were scientists, astronauts, artists and code-breakers; some connected the world, while others flew beyond it.

Here are 18 men and women whose contributions to IT and society will be long remembered.

Ann Caracristi: Ceiling breaker

Feb. 1, 1921 — Jan. 10, 2016

Some barriers are easier to overcome than others. Ann Caracristi broke through them all in her 50-year career for the U.S. government. During World War II, Caracristi worked for the Army Signal Intelligence Service, sorting and analyzing messages from the Japanese Army. Unlike most cryptanalysts, Caracristi doggedly delivered her findings as high up the chain as they needed to go, ensuring important information wasn't lost in the bureaucracy.

After the war, Caracristi joined the Armed Forces Security Agency, which later became the National Security Agency. She was first female employee there to achieve the "super-grade" GS-18 pay scale and later served as the NSA's first female deputy director.

Caracristi was 94.

Edward Yourdon: Preparing for the future

April 30, 1944 — Jan. 20, 2016

An early programmer for DEC, Ed Yourdon eventually discovered his language of choice wasn't Fortran, but English. He founded his own consulting firm in 1974 and became a prolific author, writing or contributing to more than two dozen books and publishing more than 550 articles. Yourdon was among the first to predict the severity of the Y2K bug if left unaddressed. Thanks to his forewarning, disaster was mitigated in what some consider IT's finest hour.

Yourdon was inducted into the Computer Hall of Fame in 1997 alongside such prestigious fellow inductees as Grace Hopper and Charles Babbage. He died at 71.

Marvin Minsky: Singular genius

Aug. 9, 1927 — Jan. 24, 2016

Can computers think? If they ever do, they will likely be using principles defined by Marvin Minsky.

A mathematician with degrees from Harvard and Princeton, Minsky spent much of his career at MIT. Seeing computers as a way to educate children, he and fellow MIT professor Seymour Papert co-developed the robotic turtle used by the LOGO programming language. The two men later used their experience with child psychology to collaborate on "The Society of Mind," a theory of natural intelligence and human cognition, in the hopes of determining how computers can similarly learn to reason.

Minsky co-founded MIT's Artificial Intelligence Project (now CSAIL) in 1958 and the MIT Media Lab in 1985. He died at 88.

Wesley A. Clark: Maverick maker

April 10, 1927 — Feb. 22, 2016

More than a decade before the Altair 880, IMSAI 8080 or Apple II, Wesley A. Clark invented the minicomputer — a machine intended for use by a single user, not timeshared among many. The Laboratory Instrument Computer, or LINC, was developed at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and became one of the first products sold by Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC).

The LINC went against the popular trend of pooling shared resources, but Clark often did things his own way. He later worked at Xerox PARC and proposed the implementation of Interface Message Processors, or IMPs, a key component of the ARPANET.

Clark died at 88.

Raymond Tomlinson: Innovation@work

April 23, 1941 — March 5, 2016

As an employee of Bolt Beranek & Newman (now part of Raytheon), Ray Tomlinson was charged with implementing various protocols, such as telnet, to the ARPANET. In 1972, while enabling users of a timeshare computer to exchange messages, he added code to allow messages to also be sent between computers — and chose the @ symbol to indicate the destination. Thus email was born.

"Nobody was clamoring for email," said Tomlinson (see him in this video). "Our sponsor, the Department of Defense, didn't say anything about wanting email. It just seemed like an interesting thing to do with a computer and a network — and so I just did it."

For his invention, Tomlinson received the IEEE Internet Award and a place in the Internet Hall of Fame. He was 74.

Andy Grove: Sponsor of tomorrow

Sept. 2, 1936 — March 21, 2016

Hungarian-born Andy Grove emigrated during his country's 1956 revolution, arriving in the U.S. where he earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He became Intel's first hire in 1968, serving as the director of engineering, a role in which he successfully negotiated for Intel exclusivity in IBM PCs. These achievements earned Grove several promotions: to president in 1979, CEO in 1987 and chairman in 1997 — the same year he was named Time's Man of the Year. During his tenure, Intel produced such popular chips as the Pentium.

Grove was a businessman who anticipated crises and saw them as opportunities for companies to adapt and evolve. This philosophy served as the name of his book: Only the Paranoid Survive. Remembering his roots, Grove was also on the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization.

Grove was 79.

Harold Cohen: Computer-generated ingenuity

May 1, 1928 — April 27, 2016

The career of British-born painter Harold Cohen was defined by short projects that ballooned into a lifetime. An invitation in 1968 to spend a year teaching at the University of California, San Diego, turned into a 26-year profession. Growing bored with traditional media, he taught himself to code and developed Aaron, a program that generated complex works of art. Aaron's creations were featured in galleries and science museums around the world, with Cohen often referring to Aaron not as his invention or tool, but as his collaborator (watch this video).

Cohen also served as the director of UCSD's now-defunct Center for Research in Computing and the Arts. He was 87.

Jane Fawcett: War hero

March 4, 1921 — May 21, 2016

Before Alan Turing pioneered code-breaking computers, Bletchley Park depended on its staffers' own abilities to recognize and decode patterns. And 20-year-old Jane (Hughes) Fawcett was the one working on May 25, 1941, who recognized that the encoded message before her detailed the location of the Bismarck. Just the day before, the German warship had sunk the Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood. Fawcett decoded the Bismarck's route back to France for repairs. This discovery enabled England to find, attack and destroy the ship two days later, on May 27.

After the war, Fawcett toured as an opera singer. She was 95.

Thomas J. Perkins: A capital idea

Jan. 7, 1932 — June 7, 2016

In 1973, after a decade as a general manager at HP, Tom Perkins co-founded Kleiner-Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with a unique philosophy. Said Perkins: "Venture capital has to be done in a different way. You don't just put your money in with a team of people and see what happens. No ... every company is going to have a crisis ... You will need help. And we will be there to help you." Some of the companies that grew from Perkins' investments include Netscape, Amazon and biotech firm Genentech.

Although not as prolific as his ex-wife, Danielle Steel, Perkins wrote four books, including his memoir, Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins. He was 84.

Simon Ramo: Rocketman

May 7, 1913 — June 27, 2016

The nuclear arms race was one Simon Ramo ensured the U.S. didn't lag behind in. The co-founder of Ramo-Wooldridge Corp., Ramo accepted President Eisenhower's challenge in 1953 to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike through Russia's defenses.

The resulting Atlas missile had peaceful applications as well: NASA used it to launch the Mercury astronauts into outer space, starting with John Glenn in 1962. Ramo-Wooldridge became TRW, a Fortune 500 company. TRW later formed Bunker-Ramo Corp., which is now owned by Honeywell, also a Fortune 500 company.

Ramo was 103.

Seymour Papert: Forward thinker

Feb. 29, 1928 — July 31, 2016

When PCs arrived on the scene, it was almost as if they were invented to fulfill Seymour Papert's vision for education. He immediately used them to co-create LOGO, a language that was an introduction to programming for many young coders. With Marvin Minsky, he co-directed MIT's Artificial Intelligence Project (now CSAIL). He later moved from software to hardware, collaborating with MIT's Nicholas Negroponte to develop One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit organization that distributes affordable laptops to children throughout the world.

Papert's work was driven by a desire to use technology to make education fun and accessible. As he said in 1986 about teaching children: "Scientific and formal and mathematical knowledge is not something separate from their passion for toys, from the things they did since they were small children, before they came to school."

Papert was 88.

John Ellenby: Going off the grid

Jan. 9, 1941 — Aug. 17, 2016

If the TV show Halt and Catch Fire were an accurate portrayal of the race to create the first commercial laptop, John Ellenby would be the star. In 1979, Ellenby left his work at Xerox PARC to found GRiD Systems, which in 1982 produced the Compass, the first clamshell laptop. The computer was popular in government, including NASA, where it was included on the Challenger space shuttle and later recovered in working condition.

Ellenby later founded GeoVector, a leader in augmented reality. Ellenby was 75.

Robert E. Allen: The right choice

Jan. 25, 1935 — Sep. 10, 2016

Following his graduation from college in 1957, Robert Allen spent a lifetime with AT&T. After managing several regional divisions, he became AT&T's executive vice president and chief financial officer in 1983.

The timing couldn't have been better — or worse: A year earlier, the government broke up AT&T's telephone monopoly, leaving the company floundering and in a state of transition. Allen, who became president in 1986 and CEO in 1988, helped AT&T become a leader in the mobile market. But a series of acquisitions were unsuccessful at positioning the company in the burgeoning internet business, leading to 40,000 layoffs and Allen's retirement in 1998.

Despite those difficult decisions, Allen is remembered as an empathetic leader, and one who advocated for gender equality in AT&T's leadership positions. He was 81.

Leo Beranek: A sound scientist

Sep. 14, 1914 — Oct. 10, 2016

With a master's degree in physics and communications engineering from Harvard, Leo Beranek was an acoustics engineer in demand. Between being a professor at Harvard and then MIT, Beranek developed noise-reduction techniques and technologies for Boeing, Boston Symphony Hall and the United Nations, keeping sound at manageable levels.

But his most significant assignment came from the Defense Department. During World War II, Beranek worked in Harvard's Electroacoustic Lab, where he enabled high-altitude radio communications with bomber airplanes. It was neither his last nor his most notable government contract. In 1969, his consulting company, Bolt Beranek & Newman (BBN, now part of Raytheon), was hired to build one of the first computer networks: the ARPANET, which later became the internet. It was BBN that sent the first email in 1972.

Dr. Beranek later founded Boston TV station WCVB, was a supporter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and in 2002 earned the National Medal of Science. His accomplishments and contributions will echo throughout the eras. He was 102.

Keith Ohlfs: The NeXT big thing

June 29, 1964 — Oct. 26, 2016

Steve Jobs may have been a showman, but Keith Ohlfs was the behind-the-scenes architect. After earning his degree in graphic design, Ohlfs' first job was at NeXT, the computer company Jobs founded in 1985 after he was ousted from Apple. As NeXT's UI architect, Ohlfs created the animations with which Jobs introduced the NeXT computer in 1988. Many of Ohlfs' user interface elements became part of Apple's Mac OS X, such as the spinning beach ball cursor. Ohlfs later worked as a UI architect for DreamWorks Animation, WebTV and VUDU, among others.

"Keith was a driven professional, a great friend, always a goof with a laugh or joke," wrote friend and former NeXT and WebTV co-worker Jeff Yaksick. "He touched many lives and gave his all to provide for his family and make a dent in the universe. He will be fondly remembered by many folks, I have no doubt."

Ohlfs was 52.

George Nauflett Sr.: Creative innovator

Feb. 9, 1932 — Oct. 28, 2016

George Nauflett joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950, when segregation was still the law of the land. After earning his Ph.D., Nauflett joined the U.S. Navy as a chemist. When a material used in American and Russian satellites was found to be carcinogenic, Nauflett developed an alternative.

He was a frequent presenter at the Aerospace Environmental Technology Conference, and his work was widely cited by his peers. Nauflett earned 26 patents over the course of his career and was featured in the 2004 book The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity.

Jay Forrester: Dynamic teacher

July 14, 1918 — Nov. 16, 2016

Jay Forrester graduated from MIT just after World War II and stayed there, where he headed the project to develop the Whirlwind vacuum-tube computer and refined magnetic-core memory. In 1956, after a decade of promising research, he moved to the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he spent the rest of his career teaching the field he founded: system dynamics. His work has since been applied to population, economic, and environmental models, redefining the variables influencing those fields.

At the age of 94, Forrester suggested that MIT students should study system dynamics "if you want to have a fundamental understanding of the world — if you want to be where the future lies," and that it takes "an unusual person who is daring, courageous, has a vision of where to go and doesn't care where the chips fall." No doubt he was describing himself.

Forrester was 98.

John Glenn: Ad astra

July 18, 1921 — Dec. 8, 2016

Any summary of a life as legendary as John Glenn's would only scratch the surface. After earning his wings with the Marines in World War II and the Korean War, Glenn became a test pilot, preparing him for the most experimental flight of all. In 1958, the year of NASA's founding, he was recruited as one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts. In 1962, as pilot of the Friendship 7, Glenn became the fifth person in space and the first to orbit Earth.

In 1998, he became the oldest astronaut when he returned to space at the age of 77. In the intervening years, he served his country as an Ohio state senator for 24 years, during which he was the primary author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978.

Before, during and after his historical flights, Glenn was a hero in an era in which explorers and role models seem rare. He was 95 when he made his final flight to the stars.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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