Tech luminaries we lost in 2018

Hailing from five different nations, the 13 remarkable women and men memorialized here had a lasting influence on technology and the world.

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Luminaries we lost this year [slideshow cover]
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They were the founders of such household names as Atari and Microsoft. They built the hardware and software that powers the Internet. They used computers to give voice to the young and the disabled. And they rarely did so in the spotlight.

Whether they ever achieved fame or fortune, these 13 women and men deserve a place in the history books for their lives, accomplishments, and contributions to science and

Pål Spilling: Global scientist

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Pål Spilling, Norwegian internet pioneer Gisle Hannemyr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The U.S.-government-funded ARPANET is often considered the precursor to the internet — but it might not have achieved its status as a global network if not for Norwegian scientist Pål Spilling.

After earning his Ph.D. in experimental low-energy neutron physics, Spilling joined the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, giving him early access to early computer networks. His interest piqued in networking, Spilling visited University College London and Stanford University to work alongside Peter Kirstein and Vint Cerf, considered the fathers of the European and American internets. Together, they developed of Transmission Control Protocol and then the Internet Protocol, forming TCP/IP, which manages communications across the internet. While at Stanford, Spilling also contributed to real-time speech and radio applications for the internet.

Returning to his home country of Norway, Spilling went to work in the city of Kjeller, home of the ARPANET’s first international node, where he helped expand Norway’s internet presence. In 1988, when the Morris worm began spreading across the ARPANET, Kjeller protected his entire country from infection by unplugging the national network’s cable.

Spilling was 83 when he passed.

Catherine G. Wolf: HCI pioneer

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Catherine G. Wolf Joshua Dalsimer / Brown Alumni Magazine

When you talk to Alexa or Siri, the reason they understand you is because of Catherine Wolf’s contributions to the field of human-computer interaction (HCI).

In 1977, Wolf, a trained psychologist, joined Bell Labs, where she refined early cell phone interfaces. She then moved to IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, developing speech recognition and response systems, such as those used by automated tellers — and, later, IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning Watson.

“One of the hallmarks of a good researcher is to pick important problems. Cathy did that,” John Vergo, a colleague at IBM, said in the documentary Hear Me Now. “She was considered the consummate analytical scientist.”

In 1997, Wolf was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She left IBM in 2004 on long-term disability but continued interacting with computers through a scanning keyboard that detected her eyebrow movements. In these years, Wolf wrote poetry and advocated for the disabled, helping to expand the standard questionnaire by which the functional abilities of someone with ALS is assessed.

A diagnosis of ALS usually comes with a life expectancy of three to five more years. Wolf lived for 22 years after her diagnosis; she was 70 when she died.

Adrián Lamo: Wanted hacker

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Adrian Lamo REUTERS / Joshua Roberts

Sometimes a white-hat hacker who demonstrated responsible disclosure, other times a self-interested maverick motivated by curiosity, Adrián Lamo was described by Register columnist George Smith as “the very definition of an Exxon Valdez-sized cybersecurity oil slick.” He made a name for himself exposing security holes in the networks of large corporations including Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, and was only 21 when he infiltrated The New York Times’ research portal, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. After surrendering to the FBI, he was sentenced to two years’ probation with six months home detention and fined $65,000.

After that incident, Lamo seemingly turned over a new leaf, working as a computer security consultant. In 2010, he became the online confidant of Chelsea Manning, sharing several online chats with the Army private, who divulged to Lamo her leaking of confidential government records to WikiLeaks. “I thought to myself, ‘What if somebody dies because this information is leaked?’” said Lamo to the Times in 2010. He turned over their chat logs to the FBI, leading to Manning’s arrest. "It was a combination of an act of conscience and an act spurred by my understanding of the law," Lamo said.

Lamo wrote the book Ask Adrián and was the subject of the 2009 documentary Hackers Wanted. Lamo was 37 when he died.

Stephen Hawking: Galactic genius

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Stephen Hawking REUTERS / Yonathan Weitzman

An intelligence of Stephen Hawking’s caliber comes along maybe once in a generation. Both his mind and body defied expectations, and he lived his extraordinary life with humor and grace.

By the time Hawking received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics and applied mathematics in 1966, he’d already been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It didn’t stop him from exploring the origin of the universe and the nature of black holes. Hawking’s discoveries led many theorems and effects to be named after him, including Hawking radiation, theorized to be emitted by black holes. Many of his books, including A Brief History of Time, popularized these theories in language accessible to the layperson. With his daughter Lucy, he later wrote a quartet of children’s books around these same scientific principles.

Hawking didn’t shy from other mainstream media: he appeared on several episodes of The Simpsons, Futurama, and Big Bang Theory, traded friendly insults with comedian John Oliver, and was the only person to ever portray himself on an episode of Star Trek.

But he never deviated from his cosmological career, pushing the boundaries of human understanding while mentoring the next generation of scientists. From 1979 to 2009, Hawking taught and researched as the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, England — a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Babbage.

Hawking was 76 when he died. He was the first person to be interred in Westminster Abbey since 1940, where he lies between Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Bob Braden: The great connector

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Bob Braden Public.Resource.Org (CC BY 2.0)

“I was leafing through an issue [of Proceedings] in August 1947 and happened upon an article about the circuitry of the ENIAC computer, and I found that very fascinating,” said Bob Braden in a 2014 interview with the Charles Babbage Institute. Inspired from that young age, Braden would go on to build even more fascinating computers and networks across his career.

After earning degrees in physics, Braden taught at Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and UCLA. At UCLA, he not only helped develop the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) but also connected UCLA’s IBM supercomputer to the ARPANET — a feat he repeated years later at University College London, whose wide-area network he connected to the internet. Braden had a hand in the underlying technology as well: as a member of the Internet Working Group, he contributed to the development of TCP.

Braden spent most of his career at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI), where he co-edited Request for Comments (RFC) documents, a type of publication used for proposing new internet standards, of which he wrote sixty.

"The shape and success of today's internet owe a great deal to Bob," said ISI Executive Director Herbert Schorr in 2001, conferring on Braden the title of ISI Fellow, the organization’s highest award.

Braden was 84.

Ted Dabney: Computer spaceman

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Ted Dabney, Atari co-founder Computer History Museum

After serving in the Marines, Samuel “Ted” Dabney got a job at Ampex in 1961. There, he worked on a military contract for a system to project film images on a CRT — a project that introduced him to co-worker Nolan Bushnell. A decade later, Dabney and Bushnell left Ampex to found Atari, one of the first video game companies.

Putting the era’s computers into their first arcade game, Computer Space, would’ve been prohibitively expensive, so Dabney invented a display using a cheap video circuit — which Bushnell later patented. Dabney also built the housing cabinet for Atari’s next game, Pong, converting his daughter’s bedroom into a woodshop and creating the now-industry standard form factor for arcade games.

Dabney left Atari in 1973 but wasn’t content to retire with his newfound wealth. “I don’t like taking somebody else’s money and not earning it,” he said of his desire to keep busy in a 2012 interview with the Computer History Museum. He founded Syzygy Game Company, developing games for Bushnell’s Pizza Time Theatre, which later became Chuck E. Cheese. Dabney later worked for Raytheon, Teledyne, and Fujitsu before leaving the industry and owning a grocery store.

Dabney attributes his career to a single high school algebra course. "I wasn’t good at it; that wasn’t the point. The point is, I was interested in it. I was fascinated by it," said Dabney. "The right school teacher can make a big difference in your life."

Dabney died at 81 from esophageal cancer.

Frank Heart: The IMP in the network

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Frank Heart, pictured here with the 1969 Arpanet IMP team CC0 1.0 / Universal Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Frank Heart earned his master’s degree from MIT in 1952 while working as a research assistant on the Whirlwind I computer alongside Robert Everett and Jay Forrester. After graduation, Heart stayed within the MIT family, transferring with the Whirlwind to MIT Lincoln Laboratory, an R&D center for the Department of Defense. There, he interfaced computers with external sensors to collect data over phone lines.

This networking experience made Heart an attractive recruit for technology company BBN, which he joined in 1966. Three years later, Heart’s team won the government contract to develop an Interface Message Processor, or IMP — an early router for the ARPANET. IMPs would send, receive, route, and verify the integrity of data as it was transmitted across the nascent network. Upon delivery, the first IMP worked almost immediately and continued working consistently, courtesy the error detection and remote diagnostics Heart’s team had built into it. These principles are still used today, well after IMPs were decommissioned alongside the ARPANET in 1989.

“Heart was an engineer with a reputation for making good things happen,” wrote Katie Hafner in Where Wizards Stay Up Late, her book about the origins of the internet. “Tell him you wanted something built and, by god, you would have it.”

Heart died in Lexington, Mass., home to MIT Lincoln Laboratory, at 89.

Kenneth Bowles: Linguist Franca

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Kenneth Bowles, computer science pioneer and creator of UCSD Pascal UCSD

There may be only three popular desktop operating systems today, but the ecosystem of the 1970s was more diverse, with dozens of micro- and minicomputers in play. To bridge those gaps, Kenneth Bowles invented the programming language UCSD Pascal.

In 1965, Bowles co-founded the University of California San Diego’s applied electrophysics department, a precursor to the computer science department. It was there that Bowles in 1974 began developing UCSD Pascal, which introduced such features as variable-length strings. This language was one of the first designed with application portability in mind: with so many competing brands and platforms, Bowles wanted to ensure that a program written in UCSD Pascal would require as little effort as possible to translate to a different environment.

UCSD Pascal ran under Bowles’ operating system, UCSD p-System, which was available at the launch of the original IBM PC. Bill Atkinson, an early Apple employee credited with developing the Apple Lisa GUI, also adapted UCSD Pascal for the popular Apple II line of personal computers. Thanks to this diverse proliferation, Niklaus Wirth, who developed the original Pascal, considered UCSD Pascal to be responsible for the popularization of his language. Its features later found their way into other languages such as Pascal, Ada, and Java.

Computer science was Bowles’ second career: his contributions to the engineering of Peru’s Jicamarca Radio Observatory continue to produce astrophysical discoveries to this day.

Bowles retired from UCSD in 1984. He was 89 when he died.

Robert Everett: A SAGE man

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Robert Everett MITRE

In the era of vacuum tubes and mechanical parts, digital computers were unheard of — until Robert Everett and his team at MIT built one to protect the country.

During the Cold War, the United States government realized the only way to coordinate and process data from far-flung missile-detection radar stations was with a computer. They charged Everett and Jay Forrester at MIT with developing one. It took three years and $3 million before the machine was completed in 1951. Whirlwind was a success, later evolving into its more powerful successor, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), which Everett helped design.

In 1958, Everett was a founding member of MITRE, a not-for-profit R&D organization created to direct SAGE. Everett served as MITRE’s first technical director, first executive vice president and later CEO, growing the company beyond its initial government contract.

“Bob was also a visionary and anticipated the redeployment of technology and its application to other fields,” said Joel Jacobs, CIO of MITRE. “Bob was probably the smartest guy in every room he entered, but he was humble and had a way of engaging people."

Everett received the National Medal of Technology from the late President George H. W. Bush in 1989. He died at 97.

Sir Charles Kuen Kao: Father of fiber optics

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Sir Charles Kuen Kao David Dobkin (CC BY-SA 3.0)

You might still be surfing the web at dial-up speeds if it weren’t for Sir Charles Kuen Kao. Born in Shanghai, China, Kao received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1965 while working at UK-based Standard Telecommunication Laboratories. There, he set out to extend the data transmission distance of fiber optics beyond 65 feet. "The transmission loss of these early fibers was so great that many argued that Charles' vision was doomed to failure," said Richard Epworth in the oral presentation A History of Communicating with Light.

But Kao overcame those limitations by reducing impurities in the glass fiber and experimenting with different lasers. Within four years, the transmission length had been extended to half a mile; eventually, millions of miles of cables stretched around the world and under the ocean, enabling broadband communication. Kao, dubbed the “godfather of broadband,” received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics and was knighted in 2010.

In 1970, Kao founded the electronics department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he later served as vice chancellor. Kao, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, also founded the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease with his wife. He was 84 when he died.

Sylvia Weir: Digital learner

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Sylvia Weir Michael Weir

For pediatrician Sylvia Weir, the medical instrument of choice wasn’t a scalpel or MRI; it was the personal computer.

Weir earned her medical degree in the 1940s in South Africa, where she spoke out against apartheid. In 1974, she moved to the United Kingdom, where she researched artificial intelligence, and in 1978, she joined Seymour Papert at MIT. Papert co-created the programming language LOGO to teach children how to program, which Weir combined with robotics to give autistic children a way to communicate. She spent decades devoted to helping children with autism, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities use computers to learn and speak.

Weir was later recruited as a founding member of South Africa’s Mathematics, Science and Technology Education College. Weir’s heart was never far from her home country and the aftermath of apartheid: she founded the Friends of Mponegele AIDS Orphans, a nonprofit working with AIDS orphans and other in-need children of South Africa. “My mother… felt strongly about equality of opportunity and throughout her life strove to further this ideal,” wrote her son, Michael Weir, in an obituary for The Guardian.

She was 93.

Paul Allen: Potential & passion

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder Miles Harris (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1975, Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft — which he named Micro-Soft — with high school friend Bill Gates, whom he convinced to drop out of Harvard to build the company. Together, the two developed a BASIC interpreter and MS-DOS. These two early products were wildly successful, ensuring the company’s profitability and longevity.

But Allen was not long for Microsoft: after a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, he left Microsoft in 1983, retaining his stock. When Microsoft went public in 1986, Allen became an instant millionaire, later using his fortune to buy such sports teams as the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Allen was also a renowned philanthropist, donating billions of dollars over the course of his life to tackle ebola, save elephants, and search for extraterrestrial life. He collected so many computer history artifacts that he founded his own museum, the Living Computers: Museum + Labs of Seattle.

“Your legacy will live on in the machines you helped bring back to life and the wonder you inspired for hundreds of thousands of visitors,” said the organization of its founder.

Allen served on Microsoft’s board of directors until 2000. He died at 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Evelyn Berezin: Word liberator

CW > In Memoriam 2018 > Evelyn Berezin, creator of the first computer driven word processor Computer History Museum

During the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, 6% of the population worked as secretaries and typists. They were freed from their mechanical typewriters by Evelyn Berezin, who designed the first computerized word processor.

Berezin was raised in a Bronx tenement by Russian immigrants during the Great Depression. Fascination with her older brother’s Astounding Science magazines put her on the path to a career in the sciences. After earning a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1946, she worked for Electronic Computer Corporation and then Underwood Corp., developing several computing systems including an artillery range calculator for the Army. Later she moved to Teleregister, where she developed computerized banking and airline reservations systems.

In 1969 Berezin founded her own company, Redactron, where she designed and marketed the first semiconductor-based word processor. Using an IBM Selectric typewriter as its keyboard and printer, the Data Secretary stored keystrokes on computer chips, allowing the user to edit and reprint what she had typed. The device stood more than three feet tall and had no monitor. Competing with IBM in this newly emerging market, Redactron eventually sold about 10,000 Data Secretary machines.

After selling the company to Burroughs in 1976, Berezin pursued a career in venture capital. She founded the American Women’s Economic Development Corporation, helping women start their own companies.

“Running a company is about the most fascinating thing I have ever done,” she recounted in 2011 when she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. “Teaching other people about it helped to keep that idea going.”

Berezin died of lymphoma at 93.

See also: Tech luminaries we lost in 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

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