Awarded the engineer who revolutionized the interaction with machines with computer graphics | Technology

The computer engineer Ivan Sutherland received the award on Tuesday Frontiers of Knowledge in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) category, which grants the BBVA Foundation, in its eleventh edition. The jury has recognized the award for "pioneer leading the transition from a text-based interaction with computers to another graphic". Between the most recognized works of Sutherland, professor of the University of Portland (EE UU), are the development of SketchPad, the first program to draw images in a screen, and the one of the first helmet of virtual reality.

The jury has recognized the award for "pioneer leading the transition from a text-based interaction with computers to another graphic"

Sutherland, 80, began to develop Sketchpad in the early sixties during his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "I always wanted to do graphic computing, but I did not have the manual skills. Then I had access to the TX-2, the largest computer in the world at the time, and I used it to make beautiful graphics on a screen, "he recalled in a video recorded after receiving the award. The engineer thus established the bases to replace the interaction between humans and machines based on programming code and punched cards with one that works "through drawings and manipulating icons and shapes", recalls the jury of this category of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award.

"He was the first to really think graphically about how to use computers," said Ron Ho, director of Silicon Engineering on Facebook and secretary of the jury. "Demonstrating that this type of interaction is possible has been like a revolution," he added. For his part, Joos Vandewalle, honorary president of the Royal Flemish Academy of Sciences and Arts of Belgium and also of the jury of the ICT category of this award, considered that "anyone who uses a computer or a smartphone today It brings benefits of his vision and his contribution. "

Another important result of his career as a researcher was the creation of the first virtual reality helmet, which he named The Sword of Damocles due to its great weight. It was 1968, and Sutherland was working as a professor at Harvard. "I saw how a monitor was used to allow a helicopter pilot to see what was around him through an infrared camera," he recalls today. "I realized that we could replace the camera with the computer, and see that in a mathematical, synthetic world, inside it," he adds in the video. This device allowed for the first time to visualize 3D images and interact with a 360º scene projected on a computer.

The engineer, who was born in Nebraska (USA) and in addition to working in different universities in his country also founded some companies, believes that the field of application in which the most used virtual reality today is that of video games. "Young people love to think about an artificial world and fight against artificial beings," he says. But he assures that it is also being used in other fields "of very practical and economic value", such as science, architecture and medicine.

An image of the virtual reality helmet 'The Sword of Damocles'.
An image of the virtual reality helmet 'The Sword of Damocles'.

Asked about the future of virtual reality, Sutherland said he does not have "a crystal ball" to predict what will happen. "If you want to know the future, I recommend you talk to the young people, who are the ones who will make you a present," he said on Skype Tuesday during the award ceremony. The engineer has continued with a suggestion addressed to them: "They have to do what interests them. I followed that advice myself. "

At the moment, Sutherland, who has more than 60 patents, says he loves to dedicate himself to accompanying them in the search for new innovative paths. "My life continues in active research. I have the idea that working with young people will probably extend my work for ten more years and allow me to continue enjoying life. I have a great time with the investigation. "

Last year, the winners in the ICT category were the mathematicians Shafi Goldwasser, Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir and Silvio Micali. The jury appreciated that they deserved recognition "for their fundamental contributions to modern cryptography, which" form the basis of developments such as digital signature, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. "

Eight categories and an allocation of 400,000 euros

The Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, created in 2008, "recognize and encourage contributions of singular impact, especially those that significantly broaden the scope of what is known, make new fields emerge or are the result of the interaction between diverse disciplinary areas, in different domains of science, art and the humanities ", explains the BBVA Foundation. The Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) participates in the selection of candidates.

The recognition is divided into eight categories: Basic Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics), Biology and Biomedicine, ICT, Ecology and Conservation Biology, Climate Change, Economics, Finance and Business Management, Humanities and Social Sciences, Music and Opera . According to the foundation, these are areas "that serve the knowledge map of the 21st century". Each award has an endowment of 400,000 euros, a diploma and an artistic symbol.


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