RIP Robert Taylor Who Shaped Modern Computing


Bob Taylor circa 1970s | Photography: PARC

We mourn the passing this week of another great Internet pioneer, innovator, and instigator of networked personal computing – Bob Taylor.

In the early 1960s, Doug Engelbart’s vision for humanity got traction when his proposal for Augmenting the Human Intellect came across the desk of Robert Taylor, then at NACA (forerunner of NASA):

“I was a program manager at NASA HQ in office of Advanced Research. A proposal from Doug came across my desk proposing to work with computers in the development of information – not numbers, not arithmetic, but information.Engelbart’s proposal was the first manifestation of this idea that I had seen, so I funded it right away.” – Bob Taylor in a video tribute to Doug Engelbart.

These early funds resulted in rudimentary interactive computing on a display work station, including the invention of the computer mouse and 5-key keyset. Soon Bob transferred to ARPA, and increased funding to Doug’s research, resulting in all you see in the 1968 presentation now known as the ‘Mother of All Demos‘.

In 1969 Bob’s own vision for networked computing, and Doug’s research into collaborative knowledge work dovetailed with Bob’s pet project, the ARPAnet, precursor to the Internet. When Bob first announced plans for the ARPANET, Doug was the first contractor to respond enthusiastically, his lab participated in preparations, theirs was the second computer to be hooked into the ARPANET, and was tasked with running the ARPANET Network Information Center which grew into The NIC (see prev article on Doug’s involvement in Bob’s project).

Watch segments of Bob Taylor’s CHM Oral History, esp. how he funded Engelbart, got involved at ARPA, the importance of interactive computing, what prompted the ARPANET initiative, how he recruited participants, Doug Engelbart’s enthusiasm, lack of interest at IBM, AT&T and Xerox, pushback re: interactive computing, etc. And finally, in John Markoff’s UT interview with Bob Taylor, Markoff summarizes the seminal research Bob funded, including Doug’s at SRI.

Bob went on to head up Xerox PARC’s new computer systems laboratory for advanced research, where he immediately hired several of Doug’s top researchers. He went on to receive numerous awards, including the National Medal of Technology and Innovation and the National Academy of Engineering’s Draper Prize, and was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame.

Thank you Bob for your vision as a shaker and mover, your confidence in funding important work such as Doug Engelbart’s, in shaping the future of modern computing.

Selected press for further reading:

Robert Taylor, Innovator Who Shaped Modern Computing, Dies at 85
NY Times – John Markoff – April 14, 2017

An Internet Pioneer Ponders the Next Revolution,
NY Times – John Markoff – December 20, 1999
“The Internet has many fathers, but few deserve the label more than Robert W. Taylor.”

Robert W. Taylor, 2013 CHM Fellow
By Marc Weber, a Computer History Museum tribute,  April 23, 2013

You’ve never heard of tech legend Bob Taylor, but he invented ‘almost everything’
By Leslie Berlin for WIRED,  04.21.17

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