April 14, 2021

Michael Dertouzos, the man who predicted the Internet revolution | Technology

Michael Dertouzos, the man who predicted the Internet revolution | Technology



Magazine 'Time'He cited Michael Dertouzos as "the most influential computer scientist in the world", and Bill Gates himself referred to him as "the first true technological humanist". The category of those who defined the scientist of Greek origin in those terms suggest not only his academic but above all human category, because Dertouzos, above all, was a humanist concerned about the service that technology could lend to humans and how it would help us to improve life.

He was never known by the general public, but he exercised great leadership in the work teams that he directed and always stood out as a great educator in scientific dissemination. However, in addition to his patents and contributions to science, Michael excels in the scientific world because he was a visionary in the full extent of the word and spent the last decades of the twentieth century studying and forecasting future technological changes. He himself explained that he did it with his most crazy technical imaginations passing them through the sieve of human usefulness. Thanks to that, Michael Dertouzos he thought of many situations years before they happened and also for that reason he suffered many times a premature ridicule that was compensated as time progressed.

Among his most important predictions are the ones he made in 1976, when he said that by the mid-1990s, three out of every four homes would have desktop computers, which we now know as PCs; or the one he did in 1980, when he wrote and talked about the information market, in which hundreds of millions of computers would be interconnected through a global network, allowing billions of people to freely buy, sell and exchange information.

Michael Leonidas Dertouzos was born in Athens on November 5, 1936. Son of an admiral of the Greek Navy and a professional pianist, this heritage always justified his taste for the sea as well as for Renaissance and Baroque music. His memory as a child was that of a city in flames, but post-war Athens soon became too small for him and he fulfilled the dream he once recognized as a young man: go to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He achieved this after receiving a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Arkansas, where he obtained a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. He then entered the MIT PhD program, earning his degree in 1964. He joined the faculty as an assistant professor and stayed there for the rest of his life.

Michael Dertouzos He also acquired experience as an entrepreneur when he founded Computek in 1968. The company manufactured and marketed one of the first graphic display terminals based on one of its patents. He later became the president of Computek and introduced the first smart terminals. In the early 1970s, Dertouzos, within MIT himself, switched to the Computer Science Laboratory (LCS) and joined the 'MAC Project', which had been established by the United States Department of Defense and which laid the foundation for many of the current basic design concepts for software systems.

During the administration of US President Jimmy Carter, Michael Dertouzos chaired a White House advisory group that helped redesign computer networks and represented the United States in a delegation from the 1995 G7 Conference on the Society of Information. He was also co-president of the World Economic Forum on the Network Society in Davos, (Switzerland) in 1998, without ever neglecting his two passions that served him as relaxation: the sea and woodwork.

Michael Dertouzos He was a scientist in his own right, as he collected patents on a multitude of inventions, such as a thermal printer, a graphic display system or a graphics tablet. He was also an entertaining and great scientific disseminator, to the point of being recognized as a great educator. He tried to communicate his vision of science and technology to a wider audience by writing eight books.

But above all, he was a leader and that is what all those who worked with him stand out for. He had the strange gift of uniting people to deal with complex problems while at the same time he breathed energy and passion into the processes, offering ideas and criticism in his fair measure but always respecting and admiring his colleagues, although they were also subordinates. He himself said that "we are never simply working. Rather, we are always having fun while we are productive. " In fact, Michael liked to quote the Chinese philosopher Lao-zi, who said that "under the leadership of the best leader, the subjects are hardly aware of their existence. When a true leader achieves success leads the subjects to believe that they did everything by themselves.

For almost three decades the Laboratory of Computer Science (LCS) flourished under the presence and leadership of Michael Dertouzos. With its influence, as overwhelming as apparently invisible, many of the technologies that are still present in the computer and information industry were developed.

Michael was a master when it came to bringing together and joining the technical teams to achieve coherence from the prevailing chaos. For example, he developed the X Window system, which was first launched in 1984 and remains a standard way of working on networked computers running Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Unix or Linux.

Another of his famous triumphs, half intuition, half scientific knowledge, came when the world Wide Web, the incipient Internet of the 80s, began to intuit success. Michael conceived at that time a consortium in which the companies that formed him could work together and persuaded his inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, to go to MIT and lead this effort. Tim Berners-Lee himself said that "neither I nor my small team could solve the questions that were arising. That's when Michael took control. He gathered us all around a table for more than eight hours and from there the mission, the objectives and the structure of the team went out in the future. Suddenly everything was possible again. "

Since the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web consortium has led the maintenance of web consistency, providing interoperability standards so that a multitude of browsers can access information from many different servers.

But Michael Dertouzos considered himself a humanist and an educator rather than a scientist, and perhaps that is why he played an important role in incorporating information technology into education at MIT. In 1982, for example, he co-founded an important educational project called 'Athena' (named after him in honor of the Greek goddess of wisdom), whose goal was to provide computing infrastructure throughout the academic campus to promote education.

In the last interview he was given before his death, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael spoke about the qualities he valued most in teachers and about his skepticism in what distance education could suppose through a computer: "Do not forget the impact that love has on education. If you are loved by your teacher in the most innocent and platonic sense, your teacher really cares about your well-being, will ask about you, scold you for not doing the right thing and tell you stories about why you should do this or not do it: learning It can be incredibly different. "

And it is that throughout his career, Michael was always interested not only in the development of information technology and information technology, but fundamentally in the impact of technology on human beings. He believed that technology lacked value, unless it really improved human life, human communication, human work and play. In his latest book, titled The unfinished revolution: computers focused on the human being and what they can do for usHe expressed frustration at the gap between the humanistic promise he had seen for computers and how things had gone in the commercial world.

"We made a serious mistake 300 years ago when we separated technology and humanism. It's about time to put them together again, "he said in an interview, realizing that problems such as the ethics of genetic engineering, school violence, choosing a school for children or even running a nation would require a type of thinking that Transcend pure technology and pure faith: "We need to find our way through the labyrinth of an increasingly complex world," he wrote.

Michael was not only critical of that situation, but decided to do something about it: create the 'Oxygen Project', which was intended to make computers easier to use, "as a natural part of our environment, such as the air that we breathe. " The 'Oxygen Project' and the generalized computing centered on the human being were his final legacy, an unfinished revolution.

Michael Dertouzos died in Boston (United States) on August 27, 2001 and was transferred to Athens, where he was buried in the First Cemetery of the Greek capital. His latest book, The unfinished revolution It is the best epitaph possible for a life dedicated to science but thinking about improving people's lives.

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