[Reader-list] IT pioneer from the US dies

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Mon Sep 10 22:59:41 IST 2001

## author     : bruces at well.com
## date       : 30.08.01
News Releases | MIT News Office | Search | Comments | MIT

MIT Professor Michael L. Dertouzos dies at 64; IT pioneer
who made technology accessible

AUGUST 29, 2001
Contact Information

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT Professor Michael L. Dertouzos, who
had a rare gift for putting complicated technology into
human terms and making it accessible to non-technical
audiences, died Monday night (Aug. 27) at Massachusetts
General Hospital. Born in Athens, Greece, Dertouzos was 64.

Dertouzos joined the MIT faculty in 1964 and became director
of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) in 1974.
Under his leadership, LCS became one of the largest research
labs at MIT with 400 faculty members, graduate students, and
research staff. LCS dedicated itself to the invention,
development and understanding of information technologies,
always within the context of their human utility.

"We made a big mistake 300 years ago when we separated
technology and humanism," Dertouzos said in an interview in
Scientific American. "It's time to put the two back

MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "Michael was larger than
life. He was at once a leader, builder, visionary and caring
human being. Few individuals have so personally and
profoundly shaped their institutions and professional
fields. Yet he did so in a manner that respected and
involved all of his colleagues. I will miss his personal
friendship and counsel very much."

"Michael was a leader in every sense of the word. He knew
how to motivate people; he was passionate about his work and
passionate about the people he worked with. For many of us,
this is more like losing a family member than losing a
colleague," said John V. Guttag, head of the department of
electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

LCS members and alumni have been instrumental in the
development of numerous innovations, among them time-shared
computers, RSA encryption, the X Window system, the ArpaNet
and the Internet. Most recently, LCS spearheaded the $50
million Oxygen project in 1999 in conjunction with MIT's
Artificial Intelligence Lab. Oxygen is intended to make
computers easier to use, "as natural a part of our
environment as the air we breathe."

Victor W. Zue, associate director of the Lab, commented,
"Michael fervently believed that developing technology is
not enough by itself. One must also strive to demonstrate
that it is good for something. Under his stewardship, LCS
has been mindful of balancing technical excellence with
social relevance."

The Lab is currently the North American home of the World
Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an open forum of companies and
organizations that helps promote the Web's evolution and
ensure its interoperability. Dertouzos was instrumental in
bringing the W3C and its director, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor
of the World Wide Web, to LCS.

Tim Berners-Lee said, "If it hadn't been for Michael, there
would not probably have been a World Wide Web Consortium. He
was a spring of enthusiasm, capability, insight, and
experience which drove a half-formed idea of W3C into an
international reality. Ever since, Michael's strength of
leadership, clarity of thought and warmth of heart have been
a constant support and nourishment and inspiration. He will
be dearly missed."

In the LCS director's statement, Dertouzos wrote with
characteristic enthusiasm for human progress through
technology: "We feel extraordinarily privileged to have a
hand in shaping the Information Revolution -- the third
major socioeconomic movement of our world.

"But our quest goes beyond utilitarian increases in human
productivity to the broader ways in which information can
help people. We find ourselves in the junction of two
interrelated challenges: Going after the best, most exciting
forefront technology; and ensuring that it truly serves
human needs. It is this mixture of forefront technology and
human utility that is the hallmark of LCS research."

Professor Harold Abelson of electrical engineering and
computer science, who co-authored a paper with Dertouzos,
said: "Michael was a leader of mythic proportions, both at
MIT and worldwide. Much of what we take for granted in
computing at MIT -- including Project Athena and the World
Wide Web Consortium -- is a direct result of his leadership,
his vision, and his entrepreneurial skill." Dertouzos played
a key role in creating Project Athena, which he suggested be
named after the Greek goddess of wisdom.

Stephen A. Ward, a professor of electrical engineering and
computer science at LCS and a former doctoral student of
Dertouzos, said, "Michael Dertouzos brought a unique
combination of intuition, humanity, and style to our
faculty. Michael's impact on MIT and his mentorship of
students and colleagues stand as an indelible monument to
his leadership, vision and personality. He will be
remembered as one of the greats of MIT and computer

Dertouzos, whose father was an admiral in the Greek navy,
was raised in Greece. His earliest memories were of war-torn
Athens and of people starving in the streets, an experience
that deeply affected him for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, Dertouzos dreamed of going to MIT, but when
he won a Fulbright scholarship it was to the University of
Arkansas, where he earned the BS and MS degrees. After
selling soft drinks and working with shaft-angle encoders at
Baldwin Piano, he applied to the MIT doctorate program. Upon
receiving the Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1964, he
joined the faculty as an assistant professor and became a
full professor in 1973.

True to the MIT spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship,
Dertouzos holds patents on a graphical display system, an
incremental photoelectric encoder, a graphic tablet, and on
a parallel thermal printer.


Dertouzos is the author of eight books. His latest, "The
Unfinished Revolution: Human-Centered Computers and What
They Can Do for Us" (HarperCollins), published this year,
introduced the concept of "human centered computing."
Computers, he wrote, should serve people, not the other way
around. Today's machines are overloaded with excessive
features, inadequately address our needs, and demand too
much of our attention, he declared.

"Michael argued eloquently for human-centered computing. He
thought deeply about how information technology could help
everyone, not just the technical elite," said Guttag.

In the best-selling "What Will Be" (HarperCollins),
published in 1997 when the Internet was first beginning to
take hold, he wrote about the many ways in which information
technology would transform our lives.

In 1986, Dertouzos was asked to chair the MIT Commission on
Industrial Productivity, to examine why US firms were losing
competitiveness to their overseas industrial rivals. The
result was "Made in America," co-authored by Richard K.
Lester and Robert M. Solow (MIT Press), which became one of
the most influential business books of the 1980s, with over
300,000 copies in print.

"Michael's books were one example of his educational skills.
He was fearless in entering the arena of other pundits
attempting to forecast the future of computers and their
application. Among his colleagues he was known for his
concern for the big picture," said Fernando J. CorbatÛ,
professor of electrical engineering, emeritus, at MIT, and
the inventor of time-shared computing.


An avid sailor and woodworker, Dertouzos spent much of the
past quarter century studying and forecasting future
technological shifts -- in describing, for experts and
ordinary citizens alike, what could be. In 1976, he
predicted the emergence of a PC in every 3-4 homes by the
mid-1990s. In 1980, he first wrote about the Information
Marketplace, a vision of networked computers that has
transformed the world economy.

An eloquent speaker, who was admired for his integrity and
his disdain for hype, Dertouzos was frequently sought out by
the media, industry and government agencies for his
expertise and insight on the relationship between computers
and their human users.

During the Carter Administration, Professor Dertouzos
chaired a White House advisory group that redesigned the
White House information systems. In 1995, he represented the
US in a delegation to the G7 Conference on the Information
society. In 1998, he was co-chairman of the World Economic
Forum on the Network Society in Davos, Switzerland.

"Michael had a broad understanding of technology and a
teacher's knack for explaining ideas. One direction in which
this shone was his skill in interfacing with government
sponsors of research. He was skillful in evoking the best
research ideas from within the laboratory; he could educate
without being condescending," CorbatÛ said.

In his final interview, printed in the August 22 issue of
the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dertouzos spoke about the
qualities that he most valued in teachers, qualities which
were a fundamental part of his own approach to his
interactions with the MIT community:

"Don't forget the impact that love has on education,"
Dertouzos said in explaining his skepticism of
computer-based distance education. "If you are loved by your
teacher -- and I mean this in the most innocent and Platonic
sense -- if your teacher really cares for your well-being --
and you know that because your teacher will ask about you,
will scold you for not doing the right thing, and will give
you stories about why you should do this or do that -- the
learning can be unbelievably different."

Dertouzos, a resident of Weston, married Hadwig Gofferje in
1961. They divorced in 1993. In 1998 he married Catherine
Liddell, who survives him along with his two children,
Alexandra Dertouzos Rowe and Leonidas M. Dertouzos of
Boston, and a granddaughter, Kiera Ann Rowe.

A funeral service will be held in Athens on September 4th,
followed by a memorial service at MIT. In lieu of flowers,
donations may be sent to Athens College, 342 Madison Avenue,
Suite 16161, New York, NY, 10173.


Patti Richards
Senior Communications Officer, MIT
Phone: 617-253-8923
Email: prichards at mit.edu

More information about the reader-list mailing list