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Agile Computing: Article

Who Are The All-Time Heroes of i-Technology?

From Ada, Countess of Lovelace to Jamie Zawinski

Daniel W. Hillis

 

Brief Description: VP of R&D at the Walt Disney Company; cofounder, Thinking Machines

Further Details:

Danny Hillis is an inventor, scientist, author, and engineer. He pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases. He holds over 40 U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices. Danny Hillis is also the designer of a 10,000-year mechanical clock.

As Vice President, Research and Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and a Disney Fellow, he developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer products businesses. He also designed new theme park rides, a full sized walking robot dinosaur and various micro mechanical devices.

He's now Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Minds, Inc., a research and development company creating a range of new products and services in software, entertainment, electronics, biotechnology and mechanical design.

Back in 1983, while he was finishing up his degree at MIT, Hillis co-founded Thinking Machines Corp. to produce and market the Connection Machine. The company's customers included American Express, Dow Jones, Schlumberger, Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Tokyo, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA. He continued to lead Thinking Machines' technical team until 1995 when he left to start a small consulting company, DHSH. One of DHSH's clients was The Walt Disney Company, and it was in 1996 that Hillis joined Disney full time in the newly created role of Disney Fellow.

Thinking Machines Corp. was the leading innovator in massive parallel supercomputers and RAID disk arrays. In addition to conceiving and designing the company's major products, Hillis worked closely with his customers in applying parallel computers to problems in astrophysics, aircraft design, financial analysis, genetics, computer graphics, medical imaging, image understanding, neurobiology, materials science, cryptography and subatomic physics. At Thinking Machines, he built a technical team comprised of scientists and engineers that were widely acknowledged to have been among the best in the industry.

Willis is the author of a book, The Pattern On The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work (ScienceMasters Series), in which he explains the basic ideas that make computers work. He is also an adviser to the U.S. government, and serves on the Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Justin Hart 02/18/07 11:20:16 PM EST

Vint Cerf's name is Vinton Cerf, not Vincent Cerf.

pvdg 02/09/07 07:20:28 PM EST

I'd begin with:

N°1 : Charles Babbage (designed the first computer)
N°2 : Konrad Zuse (built the first working computer)

pvdg 02/09/07 07:09:09 PM EST

What about Seymour Cray?

Bill Gates was a "hero of i-Technology" and I didn't know? What technology did he invented?

kjell krona 02/06/07 01:03:36 PM EST

In your list of IT heroes, I am missing some of the important people involved in the Graphical User Interface, as first instantiated in Macintosh UI (and later was copied by Microsoft):
Douglas Engelbart, who at SRI in the 60's invented, among other things, the idea of a mouse, overlapping windows, hypertext, outlining, video collaboration, and many other things that later inspired a lot of people to improve interaction with computers;
Larry Tesler, who at Xerox Parc (working with Alan Kay on Smalltalk) invented among other things the modeless editor and, I believe, cut/copy/paste, and later moved to Apple and worked on the Lisa and Macintosh;
Bill Atkinson, who wrote the "Quickdraw" graphics layer in Macintosh, proving that advanced bitmapped graphics was possible on a low-end processor; the orignal MacPaint, basically the predecessor to Photoshop, without which the graphical world today would be lost; and Apple HyperCard, which with its successors showed what "user programming" could mean, and accustomed people to the idea of "linking" pieces of information with clickable buttons, which subsequently exploded in the World Wide Web.

- kjell

Lars Arvestad 02/06/07 06:04:03 AM EST

|| m6 commented on the 6 Feb 2007:
|| Can someone explain to me why Jamie Z is
|| a hero?

The word "hero" should of course be used sparingly, and probably not in adjunction to "tech", but JWZ holds his place among the Big Hackers, IMHO.

Some of his accomplishments, in no particular order:
* XEmacs. He was one of (the?) main people making a user-friendly version of GNU Emacs.
* XKeyCaps. This little application has really helped me getting a sane keyboard layout under X a few times.
* Mosaic. I believe he was the main hacker on the Unix version of the first "real" browser. And one of the first employees at Netscape.

fm6 02/06/07 05:15:53 AM EST

Can someone explain to me why Jamie Z is a hero? I only know him from reading his comments in the Netscape keyboard resource file when I was trying to get the browser to behave under Linux. These left me with a permanent dislike for the dude: instead of explaining the format of the file, he put in lengthy sarcastic (and misinformed) rants about the "mistakes" made by various Unix vendors in designing their keyboards.

Ron Blessing 02/05/07 01:36:09 PM EST

Every time I see one of the computer Hall of Fame articles in a magazine
it seems to me there is always one glaring omission. I know there are
many that have contributed but I feel like there are two people that
deserve to be mentioned and always seem to be missed. Ward Christensen
and Randy Suess, in my opinion, started what eventually led to our
current Internet when they launched the first dialup Bulletin Board
system called CBBS. In addition, Ward developed the first widespread
file transfer protocol, XMODEM, which allowed files to be transferred
error free between bulletin boards around the world.

...Ron Blessing

Grady Booch 02/05/07 11:45:30 AM EST

I'm quite flatted that you've numbered me among your top twenty all-time technology heroes.

As for the Renaissance jazz bit, I play the Celtic harp, on which I perform a number of medieval and renaissance pieces. I once had an instructor who taught me some great improvisational skills, and thus the phrase, Renaissance jazz, for I like to do riffs off of really old themes.

I think I would have been an itinerant musician or a priest if I were not doing software :-)

Grady

InOtherNews 02/05/07 08:34:39 AM EST

Yakov Fain has devised his own version over here: http://yakovfain.javadevelopersjournal.com/who_are_the_heroes_of_itechno... in case anyone wants to take a look.

More Nominees 02/05/07 06:19:39 AM EST

There's a great supplemetary list by Mark Hinkle here: http://www.encoreopus.com/content/view/334/35/.

Among the new names he adds are Jarkko Oikarinen, Bram Cohen, and Jerry Yang & David Filo, the founders of Yahoo!

i-net user 02/05/07 01:21:03 AM EST

Congratulaions, you have just insured that I will never willing used AJAX in any of my projects. Your pop-over add that blocks the article is annoying at best.

Barry Threw 02/05/07 12:54:00 AM EST

Vannevar Bush
Norbert Weiner
John Von Neumann
Claude Shannon
John Pierce

kelley meck 02/04/07 11:44:05 PM EST

You have to include Claude Shannon, and you might want to consider Oliver Selfridge. Shannon was the mathematician who figured information theory, and Selfridge started everything behind neural networks--which have never caught up with modal programming, but whose promise is unbounded.

Lee Butler 02/04/07 09:34:23 PM EST

You should also remember Michael J. Muuss. He developed "ping" and was instrumental in some of the developments of TCP/IP and Unix in the early days. He worked at the Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory.

Carsten Schlemm 02/04/07 08:19:22 PM EST

Jeremy,
I am a bit disappointed you forgot Konrad Zuse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuse). His problem is that he doesn't have an Anglosaxon name....
Judge for yourself.

Cheers,

Carsten

Troy Angrignon 02/04/07 07:55:13 PM EST

Jeremy, great post. Here are my additional nominations:

http://www.troyangrignon.com/blog/_archives/2007/2/4/2709776.html

w3c 02/04/07 07:25:58 PM EST

I would nominate Dave Raggett (W3C). Over the years, Dave has been involved in the design of many important Web Technologies, starting with HTML (tables etc.), CSS, VoiceXML, MathML and XForms. He's also the author of Tidy, an important tool for Web developers.

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:24 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:24 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:24 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:09 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:08 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:04 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

a VMS afficianado in days past 02/04/07 06:20:43 PM EST

Dave Cutler, while quite brilliant, was hardly the "brains behind VMS". He worked on it, sure. And he contributed a lot. But he didn't create it and wasn't in the early architectural planning; he came along later. Maybe you should say he was "a major contributor to VMS" to be accurate.

ccrmalite 02/04/07 05:34:16 PM EST

When discussing the heroes of "I-Technology", no list would be complete without Max Mathews, the pioneering creator of the first digital music systems at Bell Labs in the 1950s upon which all digital music software and research was based. These days, imagining a computer system without music seems impossible yet without Max's work on the Music I-Music V computer music languages, we wouldn't be rocking out on our iTunes while reading this article, let alone creating digitally based music of any kind. For those who don't know Max, remember the end of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", when a dying HAL sings an homage to Max's influential early recording of "Daisy," signifying one of the computer's earliest memories. Kubrick got it right, I strongly suggest you add Max to your list.

Andy Poggio 02/04/07 04:43:00 PM EST

Please add Doug Engelbart to your list of heros of i-Technology. If you are unfamiliar with his work, just Google his name or "mother of all demos". Doug and his group at SRI international pioneered many of the things we now take for granted, e.g. hypertext networked documents, videoconferencing, collaborative work, and the mouse.

an0n 02/04/07 04:25:26 PM EST

Presper Eckert (ENIAC)
Alex Stepanov (STL)
J.C.R. Licklider (ARPA)
Charles Goldfarb et al (SGML)
Jim Clarke (Silicon Graphics, Netscape)

Agree this is in part a popularity contest. Some of the ones on the original list were influential tech CEOs or Chief Architects in their time, but does that Hall of Fame material?

And if you say "Myrhvold", I think you must also say Bruce and ESR....

Andrew 02/04/07 12:33:44 PM EST

Ed De Castro deserves to be on the list as the inventor of the personal computer - The PDP8 was my first personal computer, even if not yours :-)

Jeff LaMarche 02/04/07 11:26:11 AM EST

Grace Hopper did not invent COBOL. She absolutely 100% should be on the list, but she should be on the list for what she did do. She invented a language called FLOW-MATIC, which was then later used as the starting point by COBOL, which was (quite obviously) designed by committee wthout any further input from Admiral Hopper. She later used COBOL, but she had no direct participation in COBOL.

Much more important, though, she came up with the groundbreaking concept that computer programs could be written in a more English-like language rather than in machine code, something we all take for granted now, but which really was one of the key enablers that allowed computers to become what they are today.

Fellowship 02/04/07 08:28:41 AM EST

>> There is no genius in JUnit, unless you
>> count the hype machine that culimated in
>> Kent Beck's name appearing on this list.

Didn't Beck become an Agitar Software Fellow a while back? Alberto Savoia, co-founder and CTO of Agitar specifically called him "one of my heroes" - here's a link to the announcement back in '04: http://www.agitar.com/news/pr/20040802.html

Jeremy Epstein 02/04/07 05:03:06 AM EST

Here's a few key people I think should be on the list:

Steve Bellovin - author of USENET, security researcher, author of the seminal book (with Bill Cheswick) on firewalls

David Bell & Len LaPadula - developed the multi-level security model used to represent military security

Gene Spafford - leader of CERIAS at Purdue Univ, which spun off numerous security product companies (e.g., Tripwire, ISS)

Roger Schell - very early proponent of attacker models; first penetration tester; architect for highly secure systems

jim scandale 02/04/07 03:58:03 AM EST

there are an awful lot of what I would call purely hardware people. No doubt that they contributed greatly but "software people" they're not.
And Fred Brooks seems to have fallen off of the list.

"Inventor of the Internet" Missing 02/04/07 03:08:29 AM EST

Shouldn't Al Gore get a token place in the list?

"During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

;-)

OOPS 02/03/07 05:11:49 PM EST

Bertrand Meyer not on the list? (Eiffel and Design By Contract)

Eric Sarjeant 02/03/07 03:33:40 PM EST

I think Ward Cunningham, the creator of the "Wiki" deserves to be added to the list. If not the top 40, then surely the next 60.

Kelly 02/03/07 03:32:09 PM EST

Overall, a very reasonable list. Lots of luminaries there. Then I saw "Kent Beck, creator of JUnit and pioneer of XTreme Programming" Ergh! Sorry, I just vomited a little bit, in my mouth... Give me a break! JUnit took what? An afternoon to come up with? There is no genius in JUnit, unless you count the hype machine that culimated in Kent Beck's name appearing on this list.

Wolbdrab 02/03/07 03:31:08 PM EST

Glad to see John von Neumann and John Backus recommended.
I would add Nicholas Negroponti and William Gibson(!) (first explorer of cyberspace).

HTMHell 02/03/07 12:49:33 PM EST

I would challenge Tim Berners-Lee's positin on this list since it is HTML that has also brought us the Browser Wars, and the subsequent HTML writer's hell of trying to get a page to display properly on all the popular browsers, and all versions thereof.

The name HTML - Hyper Text Markup Language, implies a rich set of features that don't exist in reality

chiew 02/03/07 12:48:17 PM EST

Richard Stevens is the most deserving of inclusion in this entire list: everything is based on TCP/IP.

Knoppix Lover 02/03/07 12:45:47 PM EST

Has anyone nominated Karl Knopper yet - "Mr Knoppix"? Ah yes they have, I see, he was in the first 40. Quite right!

Dissenter 02/03/07 12:43:49 PM EST

Donald Knuth!? Knuth, like a lot of those listed, are just Ivory Tower acadamics with no real applications in industry

rusty0101 02/03/07 12:42:17 PM EST

Arguably Bill Gates did more for personal computers than most anyone else out there. I would have to point out however that most of what he has done is related to his business ability rather than his software writing abilities.

solarrhino 02/03/07 12:38:47 PM EST

You know, when I looked at this list, I found myself disappointed. Sure, there are some big important guys, but software is more than about applications and the big picture. It's also about the technology, and creating new abstractions. And in a lot of ways, the guy who first invented debugging is a lot more important to the success of computer science than anybody listed there.

It may be because I'm an old fart, but I remember the excitement of learning each new abstraction, either as I discovered it, or as it was invented. And it seemed to me that the creation of those abstractions are the really great deeds of computer science. Maybe nobody knows who had those break-through moments first, but I'm sure that they occured, and they seem to be to the the Great Moments in computer science.

1) The first guy to think "I shouldn't have to rewire, I should be able to write instructions that rewire it for me" - i.e., the assembler moment

2) The first guy to realize "I'm not just re-wiring this, I'm describing an procedure for it to use" - the FORTRAN moment

3) The first guy to ask "Why can't I used the same procedure from different places in my code" - the subroutine moment

4) The first guy to say "I should be able to use the subroutine in the program it already knows" - the library moment

5) The first guy to ask "Why do I have to be the one writing down the results?" - the printer moment

6) The first guy to realize "This isn't just a calculator, it's also a controller!" - the embedded moment

7) The first guy to realize "This isn't just a calculator, it's also a storage system!" - the database moment

8) The first guy to realize "This isn't just a calculator, it's also a communication system!" - the network moment

9) The first guy to realize "I'm not just submitting instructions for it to process - it's submiting instructions back for me to process!" - the interactive moment

10) The first guy to think "Why can't it do something else while its waiting?" - the multitasking moment

11) The first guy to think "Why can't it show me more context while I work?" - the full-screen moment

And finally...

12) The first guy to think "Man, why can't this thing show me some chicks?" - the porn moment

--
"Lord, grant that I may always be right, for Thou knowest that I am hard to turn" -- A Scots-Irish prayer

More Here 02/03/07 12:34:30 PM EST

How about pioneers like George Boole, John Louis von Neumann, and the 'Forgotten Father of the Computer' John Vincent Atanasoff?

bach_hoang 02/03/07 11:50:51 AM EST

It's nice to see some of the names (from the 70s) of those who advocated "open" systems (V Cerf, B Metcalfe, etc) from

Robert Sawken 02/03/07 11:24:59 AM EST

You need to add Ken Olson founder of Digital Equipment Corp. DEC owned the then mini computer market in the 70's and 80's
which was the "windows system alternative to Big Blue" of that time...

The people from DEC and RT-11, TOPS10, VAX, VMS, DECNET are some the major contributors in hardware and software like X-Windows, early Networking, first clustering, wrote much of Windows NT and are the senior developers and architects in a lot of today's technology industry...

Robert Sawken 02/03/07 11:24:57 AM EST

You need to add Ken Olson founder of Digital Equipment Corp. DEC owned the then mini computer market in the 70's and 80's
which was the "windows system alternative to Big Blue" of that time...

The people from DEC and RT-11, TOPS10, VAX, VMS, DECNET are some the major contributors in hardware and software like X-Windows, early Networking, first clustering, wrote much of Windows NT and are the senior developers and architects in a lot of today's technology industry...

queZZtion 02/03/07 09:36:50 AM EST

Where's Steve Jobs????

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