News People Internet, computer pioneer Robert W Taylor dies aged 85
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Internet, computer pioneer Robert W Taylor dies aged 85

Robert W Taylor
Taylor shepherded the creation of a single computer network that evolved into the internet. Photo: Flickr: Gardner Campbell
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Robert W Taylor, who was instrumental in creating the internet and the modern personal computer, has died at the age of 85.

Mr Taylor, who had Parkinson’s disease, died on Thursday at his home in the San Francisco Peninsula community of Woodside, his son Kurt Taylor told US media.

While working for the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1966, Mr Taylor shepherded the creation of single computer network APRANET – which evolved into the internet – after becoming frustrated he had to use three separate terminals to communicate with researchers around the country.

As he had predicted, the limited communications tool morphed into a system that supplies people with fingertip access to everything from encyclopaedias to investment advice.

In 1961, Mr Taylor was a project manager for NASA when he directed funding to Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute, who helped develop the modern computer mouse.

Taylor oversaw pioneering PC’s creation

He also oversaw a team that helped create the Alto – a pioneering personal computer – while working at the Xerox Corp’s Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC).

The Alto supplied each researcher with an individual workstation instead of sharing time on a room-sized mainframe. It was designed to use a graphical user interface (GUI), which enabled the user to command the device through icons, windows and menus instead of typing text commands in computer language.

Xerox Alto
Taylor oversaw a team that helped create pioneering personal computer the Alto. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Joho345

The technology inspired the Apple Macintosh computer, with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs declaring a GUI “inevitable” after some of his engineers convinced him to visit PARC at the end of 1979.

Mr Taylor’s engineering team also helped develop ethernet local networking and a word processing program that became Microsoft Word.

Stanford University Silicon Valley Archives project historian Leslie Berlin told the New York Times:

“Any way you look at it, from kick-starting the internet to launching the personal computer revolution, Bob Taylor was a key architect of our modern world.”

In 1999, Mr Taylor was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

In 2004, he and other PARC researchers were awarded the Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering for development of “the first practical networked personal computers”.

In the 1990s, Mr Taylor ran the Systems Research Centre in Palo Alto for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).

The lab helped create AltaVista, one of the first internet search engines.

Mr Taylor retired in 1996.

-with AP