Who was Michael Dertouzos? Google Doodle honours computer scientist who predicted the internet

MIT professor said computers would be as natural to everyday life ‘as the air we breathe’

Adam Forrest
Monday 05 November 2018 09:48
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Who was Michael Dertouzos?

Google’s latest Doodle celebrates the life of Michael Dertouzos, the Greek computer scientist who anticipated how the internet would come to dominate almost every aspect of our lives.

Monday’s homepage image honoured the renowned academic, who died in 2001, on what would have been his 82nd birthday.

As the director of MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science for almost 30 years, Mr Dertouzos was a pivotal figure in the creation of the World Wide Web Consortium – the alliance of companies and groups promoting the evolution of the internet.

Mr Dertouzos even recruited Tim Berners-Lee, the primary inventor of the World Wide Web, to lead the consortium.

Mr Berners-Lee said: “If it hadn’t been for Michael there would not probably have been a World Wide Web Consortium.”

Born in Athens in 1936, Mr Dertouzos won a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Arkansas. He would spend the rest of his career in the US, joining the MIT faculty in 1964.

Under his leadership, MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science would develop RSA encryption, an important algorithm in helping ensure computer data could be transmitted more securely.

There were other key innovations in his three decades at the helm: the development of distributed systems, time-sharing computers and the ArpaNet.

But Mr Dertouzos is remembered most for championing the internet at a time few could see how powerfully it would shape the global economy.

In his 1997 book What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will Change Our Lives, the professor predicted that the internet would become “an Information Marketplace where people and their computers will buy, sell and freely exchange information and information work.”

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He said he wanted computers to be “as natural a part of our environment as the air we breathe”, spearheading a 2001 collaboration with MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab to find ways in which computer technology could be used for humanity’s benefit.

“We made a big mistake 300 years ago when we separated technology and humanism,” he wrote. “It’s time to put the two back together.”

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