Blue plaque to honour Welsh computing pioneer Donald Davies

His invention forms basis of how information is shared online today

Emily Gorton
Friday 26 July 2013 19:13

A Welsh computing pioneer famed among tech nerds for being a father of the internet yet is now barely known of in his Welsh hometown has been honoured with a blue plaque.

The celebratory marker was unveiled in Treorchy this week for the late Donald Davies, one of the inventors of 'packet switching' - which allows computers to share data across a network and forms the basis of how information is shared online today.

Whilst Tim Berners-Lee is widely recognised as the inventor of the World Wide Web in the 1980s, Mr Davies' research 20 years earlier helped to form the basic building blocks.

But whilst he is well-known among computer science academics and in America, he remains relatively unknown in south Wales.

Packet switching allows information to be broken up into small 'packets' and sent separately, to then be reassembled at the other side.

Before this, computers could only send data through a single phone line and in the form in which it was generated - which was slow and expensive.

Mr Davies developed his idea at the same time as American engineer Paul Baran was independently forming a similar solution to the problem of data sharing in the US.

But it was Mr Davies' name of data as 'packets' which caught on, and the term 'packet switching' is still used widely today.

Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey was thrilled that Mr Davies' work was being honoured.

He said: "Donald Davies, along with Paul Baran, were the real pioneers of creating the initial network which made the internet interconnected.

"I would be wrong to say that without Donald Davies there wouldn't be the internet. But he definitely helped to form the blocks from which they made it and helped to make the interconnectivity of the computing world possible."

The son of a coal miner, Mr Davies originally studied mathematics and physics before joining the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington.

There, he worked under war-time code-breaker Alan Turing in a team which would eventually create the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) computer, before going on to do his own research in 1966.

He received the British Computer Society Award in 1974 and published books on computer communication networks in 1973 and 1984.

Donald Davies, who died in 2000 at the age of 75, was honoured by a plaque unveiled at Treorchy Library where friends and family, who had come from as far as Australia, attended.

The plaque is one of over 30 erected by Rhondda Cyon Taf council in the borough to celebrate notable people, events and landmarks of the local area.

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