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Mercury News-Artikel über Robert W. Taylor (März 2000).

Taylor ist wohl - neben J.C.R Licklider - der Psychologe mit dem größten Einfluss auf den Lauf der Computergeschichte. Mit seiner Arbeitsweise und seinem Schaffen habe ich mich in den Anfangstagen des Webs sehr intensiv auseinandergesetzt.

Über die ursprüngliche Web-Adresse ist der Artikel leider nicht mehr zu erreichen.

Seit April 2004 ist dieses File von Matthias Müller-Prove angelinkt.

A father of the Net looks back and asks, `What took so long?

Mercury News Staff Writer

SOMEWHERE in between uploading the latest family photos to your Web page, checking your auctions on eBay and all the other sundry events in your fully wired life, you may well ask: Whose idea was this in the first place?

Of course, no one single person conceived the Internet we know today. Depending on which digital-culture greybeard you ask, there are between four and 400 people who can lay legitimate claim to the title Internet founder. But before the first Internet data packet took wing, before the first piece of Net hardware was even built, there was one man who decided there would be a network. The man who made it happen was Robert W. Taylor.

Today, while the captains of Internet industry bask in their newfound roles as pop stars for the new millennium, Bob Taylor does all he can to avoid the spotlight. The 68-year-old computing legend, who retired as the director of Digital Equipment Corp.'s Systems Research Center in Palo Alto four years ago, lives in Woodside in a stately house he shares with his beloved standard poodles, Max and Lara. While others promote their own contributions to the digital culture, Taylor says he couldn't care less how the world at large sees him.

Regardless of Taylor's indifference, on Tuesday the Clinton administration will bestow upon him the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest tech honor. Taylor, who rarely leaves the Bay Area these days, will not be at the White House ceremony to receive the medal from President Clinton. He's dispatched his old Pentagon boss, Charlie Herzfeld, to accept it for him.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending a rainy afternoon with Taylor. He's happy in retirement, he says. He has three grown sons and their families living in the immediate area. He has a loyal coterie of old friends from the world-renowned labs he ran at Xerox PARC and Digital. He has his classical music and books. And that is enough.

I never expected to get (the medal), he says with a soft Texas twang that three decades in California have done little to diminish.

Taylor says there's no political message to be divined from his decision not to attend the medal ceremony. In 40 years of work I traveled close to a million miles, and I really got burned out on it. . . . In the past few years, every time I would return to the Bay Area from a long trip I would say to myself, `Why did I ever leave?' It's so wonderful to be back home. I don't intend to travel outside the Bay Area ever again, if I can avoid it.

If Taylor's fabled career were set to music, it would be a grand opera in three acts, the birth of the Internet being just the first. From 1966 to 1969, Taylor directed the computer research program for the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). At the time, his $30 million annual research budget was the most important force in computing R&D. ARPAnet, the seminal packet-switching network that would gradually evolve into the Internet, was Taylor's project to link the far-flung university research facilities doing ARPA work.

In 1968, Taylor and his mentor, behavioral psychologist J.C.R. Licklider, published a seminal paper titled The Computer as a Communication Device. The paper was an eerily prescient vision outlining the social impact of widespread computer networks. It contained what was perhaps the first discussion of a new concept: virtual communities. Rather than just building an experimental network for an elite group of academics, Taylor's vision from the beginning was a worldwide network used by a wide range of constituencies.

In September 1970, 11 months after the successful launch of ARPAnet, Taylor created the computer science lab at Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC), the think tank that would give us monster breakthroughs in graphical interfaces, Ethernet and several other technologies now ubiquitous in personal computing. It would not be overstating the case to say the personal computer era was born in Taylor's lab, in the form of a machine called the Alto. Shortly after leaving Xerox PARC in 1983, Taylor founded Digital Equipment's Systems Research Center in Palo Alto. The facility, now part of Compaq, is one of the world's leading systems labs.

Looking back, Taylor is somewhat chagrined and frustrated by the time it's taken for key technologies to filter down from the labs to consumers. In one sense, he says, I'm a very bad predictor of when things are going to happen. By the early '70s, given what we knew we could do, I thought `Well, within 10 years we'll have the country networked. We'll all have personal computers, people will be on the Internet.' I'm surprised that it took so damn long, that's the truth of the matter. People are fond of saying `Oh, technology's moving so fast.' From my point of view that's just not true. It could have moved a hell of a lot faster.

Like so many others who laid the foundations for the wired world we inhabit today, Taylor never enjoyed a huge financial windfall for his work. He says he made a conscious decision to avoid the machinations of commerce. I was able to pick and choose who I worked with for close to 40 years. And I was able to pick what we worked on for close to 40 years, Taylor says.

Who else can say that? That's the kind of life I had. I deliberately avoided the business world, because frankly I didn't want to work with the idiots you have to work with in order to build a successful company. The people who left Xerox PARC to found their own companies had to put up with a hell of a lot of stuff that I wouldn't put up with for a minute.

While Taylor is intensely interested in seeing the history of the early Internet recorded accurately, he professes not to care about securing a place for himself. Will history remember him as the man who conceived the Internet? I don't know. It doesn't matter. There are a lot of people who think that Al Gore or Bill Gates invented the Internet. It's all right. It doesn't bother me. I know what I did, he says. In terms of recognition by people outside computer science, in the 40 years that I worked, there's never been such recognition and I don't expect it.

There are very few things about the Internet and digital culture that trouble Taylor these days. But there is one unfinished piece of business, something that goes back all the way to his groundbreaking 1968 paper with Licklider: Taylor is deeply worried about the digital divide separating the technological haves and have-nots in America. Thirty-two years ago, just prior to the birth of the Net, he wrote:

For the society, the impact will be good or bad, depending mainly on the question: Will to be `online' be a privilege or a right? If only a favored segment of the population gets a chance to enjoy the advantages . . . the network may exaggerate the discontinuity in the spectrum of intellectual opportunity.

Today, the right vs. privilege question is back at the forefront of his thoughts. If we can make it more of a right, then I think the chances of evil forces undermining the network or overtaking it are slim, he says. It's in the best interest of lots of different institutions to recognize it as a right -- starting with the U.S. government. I don't know how it's going to turn out . . . but before I die, I'd like to see this settled.

I ask Taylor whether the digital culture he had such a central role in creating is either widening or narrowing the divisions in society. Taylor, bless his ornery Texas soul, is an optimist: Slowly, the divisions are becoming narrower. There are people who have interests, who have discovered others around the world who share those interests. And their lives are richer for it. And their horizons are broader for it. . . . We're a half an inning into the game, barely at the beginning., posted at 6:40 p.m. PST Friday, March 10, 2000