To know where we are going, we need to understand where we’ve come from. Something the tech world seems to have forgotten. In this blog I want to talk about the influential technologists who have been and past.
These four have shaped computing today.
Alan Turing was one of the most influential men in computing history, and passed away in 1954 of a self-inflicted cyanide poisoning. Turing was a London born mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist, and without him the computer as we know it wouldn’t exist today. Turing was the first man to give a formalization of the concepts of an algorithm and computation with his ‘Turing Machine’, which is considered the model of a general purpose computer. Turing is still considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence today.
During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School, Britain’s code breaking centre. For a time Turing was head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Turing devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.
Following the war, Turin worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, the first design for a stored-program computer.
Turing had a remarkable mind, which enabled computer engineering to move forward.
Dennis Ritchie was part of a select few who took the foundation of Turing’s work and “helped shape the digital era.” Ritchie created the C programming language and, with long-time colleague Ken Thompson, the Unix Operating System.
In 1983, Ritchie and Thompson received the Turing Award from the ACM, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and in 1999 the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton. Ritchie was the head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department when he retired in 2007. Ritchie was the ‘R’ in K&R C and commonly known by his username dmr.
By developing the UNIX Operating System and C language, it gave technology legends such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs the possibility to develop the formidable Windows Operating System, the programs which are used today, along with text languages. Without the development of C language, societies would currently be reading in binary in present day.
Bill Gates, a Harvard drop out is currently the former chief executive and current chairman of Microsoft, the world’s largest personal-computer software company, which he co-founded with Paul Allen.
From Microsoft’s founding in 1975, Gates had primary responsibility for the company’s product strategy. Gates aggressively broadened the company’s range of products, and whenever Microsoft achieved a dominant position, Gates vigorously defended it.
After reading the January 1975 issue of ‘Popular Electronics’ that demonstrated the Altair 8800, Gates contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), the creators of the new microcomputer, to inform them that he and others were working on a BASIC interpreter for the platform. In reality, Gates and Allen did not have an Altair and had not written code for it; they merely wanted to gauge MITS’s interest. MITS president Ed Roberts agreed to meet them for a demo, and over the course of a few weeks they developed an Altair emulator that ran on a minicomputer, and then the BASIC interpreter. The demonstration, held at MITS’s offices in Albuquerque was a success and resulted in a deal with MITS to distribute the interpreter as Altair BASIC. Paul Allen was hired into MITS, and Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to work with Allen at MITS in Albuquerque in November 1975. Gates and Allen named their partnership “Micro-Soft” and had their first office located in Albuquerque. Within a year, the hyphen was dropped, and on November 26, 1976, the trade name “Microsoft” was registered with the Office of the Secretary of the State of New Mexico. Gates never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.
Microsoft’s BASIC was popular with computer hobbyists. Microsoft became independent of MITS in the late 1976, and it continued to develop programming language software for various systems.
During Microsoft’s early years, all employees had broad responsibility for the company’s business. Gates oversaw the business details, but still continued to write codes. In the first five years, Gates personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, and often rewrote parts of it as he saw fit.
Microsoft launched its first version of Windows on November 1985, and in August, the company struck a deal with IBM to develop a separate operating system called OS/2. Although the two companies successfully developed the first version of the new system together, mounting creative differences caused the partnership to deteriorate. The partnership ended in 1991, when Gates led Microsoft to develop a version of OS/2 independently from IBM.
The Windows Operating System is now on its 8th generation, with the most recent, up-to-date launch of Windows released on the 8thOctober 26, 2012. Windows can now be found not only on personal computers but on mobile, laptops and tablet. Without both Gates and Allen’s development of Windows, more than 2 billion people would be without an Operating System for their computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones.
Steve Jobs is best known as the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. Through Apple, Jobs was widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution, along with his influential career in the computer and consumer electronics fields, transforming “one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies…” Jobs acquired and served as chief executive of Pixar Animation Studios from Lucas Film; additionally Jobs became a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney Company in 2006, when Disney acquired Pixar.
In the late 1970s, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak engineered one of the first commercially successful lines of personal computers, the Apple II series. Jobs was among the first to see the commercial potential of Xerox PARC’s mouse-driven graphical user interface, which led to the creation of the Apple Lisa and, one year later, the Macintosh. Jobs also played a role in introducing the LaserWriter, one of the first widely available laser printers, to the market.
Following a power struggle with the board of directors in 1985, Jobs left Apple and founded NeXT, a computer platform development company specializing in the higher-education and business markets. In 1986, Jobs acquired the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, which was spun off as Pixar. Jobs, who was also credited in Toy Story (1995) as an executive producer, additionally served as CEO and majority shareholder until Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006. In 1996, after Apple had failed to deliver its operating system, Copland, Gil Amelio turned to NeXT Computer, and the NeXTSTEP platform became the foundation for the Mac OS X. Jobs returned to Apple as an advisor, and took control of the company as an interim CEO. Jobs brought Apple from near bankruptcy to profitability by 1998.
As the new CEO of the company, Jobs oversaw the development of the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and on the services side, the company’s Apple Retail Stores, iTunes Store and the App Store. The success of these products and services provided several years of stable financial returns, and propelled Apple to become the world’s most valuable publicly traded company in 2011. The reinvigoration of the company is regarded by many commentators as one of the greatest turnarounds in business history.
Jobs received a number of honors, along with public recognition for his influence in the technology and the music industries. He has been referred to as “legendary”, a “futurist” or simply “visionary”, and has been described as the “Father of the Digital Revolution”, a “master of innovation”, and a “design perfectionist”.
Without the development timeline of Alan Turing and Dennis Ritchie neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs would have been able to change the computing world like they have or did in Steve’s case.
There are too few people in the technology world that understand the history behind the computers they use or the programs that allow them develop on. These four individuals discussed in the blog made computer science, technology and the hardware we use today – without them, the world would be a very different place.
Alan Turing – The Enigma of Intelligence – Andrew Hodges – ISBN-13 978-0691155647
Dennis Ritchie – Various Internet Articles and Blogs
Bill Gates – Bill Gates Speaks – Janet Lowe – ISBN-13: 978-1559352871
Steve Jobs – Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson – ISBN-13: 978-1408703748