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Shaper of the Computer-Connected World

If someone were to ask me who created the personal computer, my answer would be either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. If someone were to ask me who created the internet, my answer would be Al Gore (just kidding). But a recent obituary of Robert Taylor (no relation), who died last week at 85 in California, sets the record straight.

A few facts:

1966. Robert Taylor takes a job at the Pentagon‘s Advanced Research Projects Agency. At the time, ARPA was funding three separate computer research projects and using three separate computer terminals to communicate with them. Mr. Taylor decides that the department needs a single computer network to connect each project with the others. This idea leads to Arpanet, which eventually becomes the internet.

1970. At the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in California, Mr. Taylor’s team builds a prototype personal computer called the Alto. Another group, led by colleague Alan Kay, adds a software system using a desktop metaphor, with documents represented by graphical icons. Mr. Taylor pumps PARC money into another project led by scientist Douglas Engelbart, who invents the mouse. These combined technologies become the inspiration for the Apple Macintosh computer and for Microsoft’s Windows software. Even the laser printer was invented at PARC during Robert Taylor’s tenure.

In the 90s, Mr. Taylor developed and ran the Digital Equipment Systems Research Laboratory, which helped create AltaVista, one of the first internet search engines.

Quite a remarkable life for a boy adopted by a Methodist minister and his wife in San Antonio, Texas in 1932. 

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