20 Important People in Computing

Ka-Ping Yee (ping@lfw.org)
Thu, 7 Jan 1999 00:14:28 -0800 (PST)

Hello all!

As my first contribution to FoRK allow me to present a letter
i recently wrote.

The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, published a
list of "100 most influential people of the millenium" just
after the new year began, compiled from votes sent in by readers.

Bill Gates took a startlingly high position on this list and i
wanted to write a refutation of sorts that would distribute some
credit and raise a little more awareness about important figures
in computer science.

My list is not perfect; other names i considered included Jobs,
Backus, Naur, Perlis, Atanasoff, Stroustrup, Lamport, Hillis,
Wozniak, van Dam, Sussman, Steele, Minsky, Hofstadter, Boole,
Vannevar Bush. But perhaps you might find it interesting anyway.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 7 Jan 1999 00:04:23 -0800 (PST)
From: Ka-Ping Yee <ping@lfw.org>
To: focus@globeandmail.ca
Subject: 20 Important People in Computing

To the Editors of Focus:

Like many others who read your list of 100 most influential people
of the millenium on January 2nd, i'm sure, i came across several
names that i felt belonged higher on the list and others that did
not belong on it at all. However, as a student and professional
of computer science i will not presume expertise outside my field.

I was disappointed (though not much surprised) to find Bill Gates
at 34th place, beating out such important figures as Adam Smith,
the Wright brothers, and Mother Teresa, and wiping all other
computer scientists off of the list except for Alan Turing in 90th.

Gates is a powerful and successful businessman, but not the father
of computing. Lest anyone obtain from your results the mistaken
impression that he is any kind of inventor or visionary, please
allow me to present my own list of "20 significant people in the
history of computing":

1833 Charles Babbage, inventor of the first computer
1937 Alan Turing, described computability and the Universal Machine
1944 John von Neumann, computational theorist, first described the
stored-program computer
1947 William Shockley, inventor of the transistor
1948 Claude Shannon, founder of information theory
1952 Grace Hopper, pioneer of programming languages and compilation
1956 John McCarthy, creator of LISP, founder of artificial intelligence
1961 Jack Kilby, inventor of the integrated circuit
1963 Ivan Sutherland, pioneer of interactive computer graphics
1964 Douglas Engelbart, visionary of humanistic computing, creator of
the mouse, windows, video conferencing, and more
1968 Edsger Dijkstra, champion of structured programming
1969 Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie, creators of the C language
1969 Ken Thompson, creator of Unix
1972 Alan Kay, pioneer of object-oriented programming and the
graphical user interface
1973 Donald Knuth, pioneer of the study of data structures and algorithms
1973 Vinton Cerf, developer of TCP/IP, "father of the Internet"
1976 Robert Metcalfe, creator of the local area network (Ethernet)
1980 Jon Postel, developer of core Internet protocols and standards
1990 Tim Berners-Lee, "father of the World-Wide Web"

As with all such lists, it was very difficult to choose only 20.
While many may disagree that these were THE most important 20,
scarcely anyone can deny that each has had tremendously greater
impact than Gates, by conceiving profound ideas and building
things that have shaped our modern world. Most of these names
are far from commonplace in popular media, and it is my hope
that this letter will direct some recognition more appropriately.

Respectfully submitted,

Ka-Ping Yee
Industrial Light and Magic