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Robert W. Taylor (born 1932). Taylor was a, arguably the, major figure in the development of the Internet, the personal computer, and the technologies that support the computer revolution worldwide.

His work was recognized in 1999 by the award of the National Medal of Technology. The citation reads: "For visionary leadership in the development of modern computing technology, including initiating the ARPAnet project -- forerunner of today's Internet -- and advancing groundbreaking achievements in the development of the personal computer and computer networks."

In 2004, the National Academy of Engineering awarded him along with Butler W. Lampson, Charles P. 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."

He was director of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office (1965-69), founder and later manager of Xerox PARCmarker's Computer Science Laboratorymarker (CSL) (1970-83), and founder and manager of Digital Equipment Corporation's Systems Research Center (SRC) (1983-96). Taylor is retired and living in Californiamarker.

Taylor early recognized that "The Internet is not about technology; it's about communication. The Internet connects people who have shared interests, ideas and needs, regardless of geography."

The Mother of All Demos could not have happened without Bob Taylor who directed funding to the famous Douglas Engelbart 1968 public demonstration in San Francisco to several thousand computer experts. Dr. 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.

"It was stunning," Bob Taylor says. "It really woke a lot of people up to a whole new way of thinking about computers -- not just as number crunchers."

Looking forward, Bob Taylor in 2000, voiced two concerns about the future of the Internet: control and access.

1. Comparing the Internet to a highway network, he argues there needs to be a system of licensing users of the Internet just as people need licenses to drive on the roads. "There are many worse ways of endangering a larger number of people on the Internet than on the highways," he warns. "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."

2. Bob Taylor feels strongly that there should be no economic barrier to going on-line. "Will it be freely available to everyone? If not, it will be a big disappointment."


Bob Taylor was born in Dallas, Texas, the son of a Methodist minister and spent an itinerant childhood, moving from parish to parish. He started at Southern Methodist University at 16, served a stint in the Navy during the Korean War, and went back to school (the University of Texasmarker) under the GI Bill. At UT he was a "professional student," he says, taking courses for pleasure. He finally put them together for a degree in experimental psychology, with minors in math, 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.

For a while, Mr. Taylor taught math and coached basketball at 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 says.

He gave up poverty for a couple of engineering jobs with aircraft companies at much better salaries. After working for a defense contractor, Martin Marietta, and after he submitted a research proposal to NASAmarker, Taylor was invited to join NASA in 1961.

Taylor was swept up in the heady atmosphere of the Kennedy administration and post-Sputnik Washington, gearing up to put a man on the moon. He became enamored with new possibilities for computers, and met two of the field's visionaries: Douglas Engelbart at SRI (then the Stanford Research Institute) in Menlo Park; and J.C.R. Licklider, who was heading the new Information Techniques Processing Office at ARPA.

While still at NASA, Bob Taylor directed funding to Mr. Engelbart's studies of computer-display technology at SRI that led to his most famous invention, the computer mouse.

In 1963 Bob Taylor met JCR Licklider, who became his mentor. Licklider had written a seminal article in 1960 foreseeing new, more powerful ways to use computers and the article greatly influenced Taylor. He soon moved from NASA to ARPA, as a deputy to Ivan Sutherland and later became director of the ARPA office that funded programs in advanced research in computing throughout the country.

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

Not much known is the role Taylor took on during the Vietnam War when he was sent to Vietnam to unsnarl some logistic problems. Only about 35 years old, he was given the military rank equivalent to his civilian position: brigadier general. This facilitated his dealings with senior officers.

Taylor recalls finding that different people were using different definitions. So he revised protocols, put things in a single consistent form, and set up a program to build a computer center near Saigon.

"After that, they may still have been lies, but they weren't contradictory lies," he says.

During this period, Congress began pushing to focus ARPA's work -- which was completely unclassified -- toward advancing military missions. Bob Taylor, whose personal mission was to make the new computer technology available to the whole country, decided to move on.

"It crippled a lot of research," he says. He was also discouraged by the Vietnam war. "By 1969 I knew ARPAnet would work. So I wanted to leave."

After a year decompressing at the University of Utah, Taylor took on his most famous job -- managing the Computer Systems Laboratory (CSL) at the new Xerox PARC. In 1970 he moved to Palo Alto where for 13 years he was nursemaid-in-chief to the extraordinary group of geniuses who have transformed the world through computers and local computer networks.

Nursery for genius

A dozen or more books have been written about the miracle of Xerox PARC and the billion-dollar companies it has spawned or contributed basic technology to. They avidly chronicle the in-fighting, and the extraordinary disconnect between the free-wheeling culture of PARC and corporate Xerox, which let many technologies of the future slip through its fingers.

"Most of what we take for granted in today's Windows and Macintosh personal computer systems were invented at CSL. Indeed it was a visit to CSL by Steve Jobs in 1979 that led to the Apple Macintosh," says the biography that accompanies the National Medal of Technology. "Taylor did not simply run CSL; he built it from scratch, and he provided much of the vision that enabled the lab to create systems that were much more than the sum of their parts."

The 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 include:

  • The Alto and Dorado, powerful personal computers with windows-type displays and graphical user interfaces that were the basis of the Macintosh.

  • 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.

"We did a number of separate things, but they fit together as a single computer architecture"

Bob Taylor's accomplishments built up over three successive careers. In Washington in the 1960s, he conceived and directed federal funding for the original ARPAnet in his position as a civilian manager in the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. At the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s, he supervised the legendary incubator where key technologies for the personal computer and computer networking were born, and where companies such as Adobe, Novell, and 3Com got their start. And at the Digital Equipment Corporation's new research center in Palo Alto, he oversaw development of electronic books, modern work stations, and the precursor to the Java programming language.


As a research manager at NASA, Taylor funded Douglas C. Engelbart's work developing the computer mouse.

J.C.R. Licklider and Taylor co-authored the seminal paper, "The Computer as a Communication Device". Licklider's and Taylor's ideas and the funding from their group led to the creation of ARPANET, which evolved into the modern Internet.

Taylor and Licklider were interested in the possibility of networking computers together to facilitate collaborative work and communications, and to share resources. Taylor has on numerous occasions said that the widespread belief that this work was done to make computer systems resistant to nuclear attack is completely false.

Licklider and Wesley Clark exerted the most important influence on Bob Taylor during these days. ARPA's Director Charlie Herzfeld allocated the ARPAnet budget at Taylor's request. Lawrence G. Roberts, who Taylor was able to attract from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, was the program manager.

At CSL, Robert Taylor was in his element as a manager, encouraging collaborative, informal working structures among the researchers. CSL originated the Ethernet, the modern personal computer graphical user interface (GUI) paradigm, and object-oriented programming. It combined these ideas into the Alto, the prototype for the personal computer as we know it today.

Xerox management could not be convinced of the possibilities of personal computing, and eventually Taylor and most of the researchers left CSL. Taylor was hired by Ken Olsen of DEC, and formed the Systems Research Center. 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, Taos; the first User Interface editor; and the first networked Window System, Trestle.

How the ARPAnet came about

When Bob Taylor first became involved with computers, they were large and cumbersome. People punched instructions onto cards, loaded them in batches into a computer, and got the results a day or so later. If there was even a tiny mistake: too bad, start over.

Among the computer projects that JCR Licklider and ARPA supported was time-sharing, where many users could work at terminals and share a single large computer that was so fast that each user felt he had the computer to himself. "Interactive computing is like a conversation. It's a huge change," Bob Taylor says. "Now I wanted to interconnect them. Hence the ARPAnet."

As time-sharing systems came to life, Bob Taylor observed they began to acquire communities of users who worked together but knew each other only through computers. "That's a very powerful and interesting sociological phenomenon," he says. "Then it was brand new."

About 1966, Bob Taylor recalls, his office in the Pentagon had a terminal connected to time-sharing community at MIT, a terminal connected to a different kind of computer at the University of California at Berkeley, and a third terminal to the Systems Development Corp. in Santa Monica. "To talk to MIT I had to sit at the MIT terminal. To bring in someone from Berkeley, I had to change chairs to another terminal," he says. "I wished I could connect someone at MIT directly with someone at Berkeley. Out of that came the idea: Why not have one terminal that connects with all of them?

With the immediate assent of his boss, ARPA started funding projects to make the world's first interactive computer network. It contracted with Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BB&N) to build the brand new system; it arm-wrestled some of its contractors to join the fledgling network. ATT Bell Labs and IBM Research were invited to join, but were not interested.

Douglas Engelbart remembers a pivotal meeting in 1967 when most participants resisted testing the new network; they thought it would slow down their research. Not Engelbart: "I thought, Boom! Here comes an offer for a community," he says. "To me it was the way we're using the Web today."

SRI set up a center, node for the new network. In 1969, the first message on ARPAnet went from Santa Monica to SRI.


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." In 1994, all three were named ACM Fellows in recognition of the same work. In 1999, Taylor received the National Medal of Technology "For visionary leadership in the development of modern computing technology, including computer networks, the personal computer and the graphical user interface." In 2004, he won the Charles Stark Draper Prize together with Alan Kay, Butler W. Lampson, and Charles P. Thacker "For the vision, conception, and development of the first practical networked personal computers."

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