Computing visionary Taylor dies, aged 85

As a research director at federal agencies and private research centres, the late Robert Taylor had a knack for finding the right people and ideas to make the digital revolution possible.
As a research director at federal agencies and private research centres, the late Robert Taylor had a knack for finding the right people and ideas to make the digital revolution possible. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Mr Robert Taylor, whose ideas for using computers as communication devices were considered visionary, and who fostered several major advances that contributed to the development of the Internet and personal computers, died last Thursday. He was 85.

He had Parkinson's disease, said his son Kurt. He died at his home in Woodside, California.

The elder Mr Taylor was not strictly an inventor, but as a research director at federal agencies and private research centres, he had a knack for finding the right people and ideas to make the digital revolution possible.

He was born on Feb 10, 1932, in Dallas. He was adopted soon after his birth by a Methodist minister and his wife and grew up throughout Texas.

He served in the Navy during the Korean War, then majored in experimental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1957 and a master's in 1959.

In 1961, Mr Taylor provided funding through Nasa to California researcher Douglas Engelbart, who invented the computer mouse, which greatly increased the practical applications of computers.

Mr Taylor soon moved to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa), a somewhat secretive agency with wide latitude to explore developments in technology.

By 1969, researchers under his guidance had developed Arpanet, a system recognised as a forerunner of the modern Internet.

He left Arpa in 1969, then spent a year at the University of Utah before moving to California in 1970 to develop a computer science laboratory for Xerox. He quickly built the Palo Alto Research Centre into a premier Silicon Valley think-tank.

Researchers in his lab built the Alto, one of the first personal computers, along with file-sharing systems and an early word-processing system that allowed users to cut and paste blocks of text. They also invented the first laser printer.

From 1983 until his retirement in 1996, Mr Taylor directed a research laboratory at Digital Equipment and helped develop AltaVista, an early Internet search engine. In 1999, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology by then United States President Bill Clinton.

Mr Taylor had no major patents and said he had no regrets that the discoveries he inspired did not make him wealthy.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Computing visionary Taylor dies, aged 85'. Print Edition | Subscribe