2016’s notable deaths in technology, science & inventions

Paying respects to computing pioneers, corporate leaders (AT&T, Intel) and the most inventive of inventors who passed during 2016

00 notables 2016

Paying respects

The worlds of networking, computing, science and inventions have lost pioneering and influential figures in 2016, from those who brought us networked email to the earliest PCs to movie icons. Here’s our modest tribute to these innovators worth remembering. 

(IDG News Service contributed to this report)

LOOK BACK: 2015’s notable deaths 2014’s notable deaths

01 andy grove

Andy Grove, former Intel CEO

Grove was Intel’s first hire when Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore founded the company after quitting Fairchild Semiconductor in 1968. He went on to become president in 1979 and CEO in 1987, and is credited with the transition of the company from making memory chips into microprocessors for the PC era. Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates described Grove as “one of the great business leaders of the 20th century.”



02 ray tomlinson

Ray Tomlinson, inventor of networked email

This Internet Hall of Famer sent the first emails across a network back in 1971. A longtime employee of BBN Technologies, now part of Raytheon, he popularized the use of the @ symbol by sticking it between user names and domain in email addresses. "Of all the available punctuation marks, only the "At" sign had a sense of place," he told Computerworld back in 2007. (More on Tomlinson here.)



03 tony dyson

Tony Dyson, R2-D2 creator

Dyson ran a special effects company in the U.K. when he was hired to build remote-controlled droid characters for George Lucas’s Star Wars movies, and he went on to build robotics for other films, including from the Superman and James Bond series. But he had a true appreciation for what he created in R2-D2, as he wrote on his website: “The love for R2 is universal; no other Star Wars character has been loved over the years the way R2-D2 has, his merchandising has rocketed over the years and his influence in the world of robotics is truly remarkable.

05 wesley clark

Wesley Clark, designed first personal computer/minicomputer

This UC Berkeley-trained physicist began working on early personal computers (TX-0 and TX-2) after coming to MIT to work on a computing project dubbed Whirlwind. He went on to design the industry-changing minicomputer back in 1961 as the leader of an engineering team at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. That group built the LINC, initially for doctors and medical researchers, as a non time-sharing machine. The concept was soon after commercialized by Digital Equipment Corp., according to a New York Times obit.

06 marvin minsky

Marvin Minsky, AI innovator

This 1969 Turing Award winner was well ahead of his time in pioneering the exploration of artificial intelligence, so prevalent today in everything from Apple Siri to Amazon Alexa. In his latest writings, he explained how human brains might work and how machines might be built to feel and think.

A Harvard grad, Minsky went on to build the first neural network simulator (SNARC) at Princeton and then established what is now known as the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, where he also was a founding member of that school’s Media Lab. (More on Minsky here.) 

04 jim kimsey

Jim Kimsey, AOL co-founder

This U.S. Army veteran got his start in business by opening a series of bars back in the 1970s, then got into consulting for an online service related to the Atari video game console. That online service business was later reorganized into what would become dial-up service giant AOL, which Kimsey led before handing the reins to the higher profile marketing whiz Steve Case. In a statement included in the New York Times obit for Kimsey, Case credited his predecessor at the top of AOL with helping to make “the Internet part of everyday life.”


07 robert allen

Robert Allen, former AT&T Chairman/CEO

A 40-year veteran of AT&T, Allen oversaw the carrier’s major transitions during the 1980s and 1990s following the government-mandated breakup of the telephone monopoly. He led the company’s entrance into wireless communications via the bombshell acquisition of McCaw Cellular. He also steered the company into computing during its $7.5B buyout of NCR in 1991, only to sell that business off a few years later.


08 john ellenby

John Ellenby, early laptop builder

A British businessman who founded Grid Systems, the maker in 1982 of one of the first laptop computers (Grid Compass), which among other things, was used on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. Tandy bought the company in 1988. Ellenby also got in early on augmented reality via GeoVector, a company he co-founded.


09 margaret vinci heldt

Margaret Vinci Heldt, creator of beehive hair style

Heldt’s 1960 invention of big hair before there was 1980’s-style big hair, was popularized in film (Brigitte Bardot), music (B-52s, the Ronettes) and the general public. This beautician, according to a Chicago Sun Times obit, made Chicago the “Hairdo Capital of the World” for a spell. (Note: Image above is not of Heldt; photo just depicts the style)


10 harry weller

Harry Weller, general partner, New Enterprise Associates

Weller led venture capital firm NEA's east coast practice and had been recognized for his work by making the Forbes "Midas List" for 9 straight years. He currently served on the boards of at least a dozen companies, including Appian and MongoDB. Among his investments of note in the tech world: AddThis, Eloqua and OPower (all acquired by Oracle); Groupon; SolidFire (snapped up by NetApp); SourceFire (Cisco bought it); webMethods (acquired by Software AG); and Vertica (acquired by HP).

"A renowned technology investor, champion of innovation and true partner to entrepreneurs, many knew Harry to be bold, brilliant and passionate," NEA says on a tribute to Weller on its website. "To those who knew him best, he was equally remarkable for his kind heart and generous spirit. Harry was a deeply devoted father, husband and friend." MORE here on Weller. 

11 jay forrester

Jay Forrester, founder of system dynamics field and a digital computing pioneer

MIT boasts of its late professor emeritus in the Sloan School of Management as being so very versatile. Forrester played key roles in the creation of the national air defense system and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. He also led Project Whirlwind, an early MIT digital computing project that led him to invent magnetic core memory, an early version of RAM.

12 tom perkins

Tom Perkins, venture capital legend

His name is well known from the powerful VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which funded such tech powerhouses as Amazon.com, Google and Sun Microsystems. A Bloomberg obit on Perkins recounts how the Harvard Business School graduate left a job at Hewlett-Packard in 1972 to start Kleiner Perkins with $8 million in funds in Menlo Park. The VC firm bearing his name issued a statement that “He defined what we know of today as entrepreneurial venture capital by going beyond just funding to helping entrepreneurs realize their visions with operating expertise.”


13 keith ohlfs

Keith Ohlfs, software UX designer (including MacOS pinwheel)

This talented software UX designer’s claims to fame included working on the operating system at the heart of Steve Jobs' NeXT Computer systems.

Ohlfs’ friend Jeff Yaksick has written that "Keith was a talented Artist and User Interface Designer, with a passion for making fun and useful experiences for the gadgets we now use day to day. He pretty much single handedly created the Visual Interface and influenced the Interaction Design for the NeXT Computer (Steve Jobs' 2nd Act). Apple bought NeXT in 1996 and some of Keith's influence still lives on in MacOS today. The spinning rainbow wait cursor is based on his original (which referenced the NeXT optical disk) and every time you type in your password incorrectly, and the login panel shakes 'no' that's his delightful touch.”

14 david morgenthaller

David Morgenthaler, venture capital pioneer

The founding partner of Morgenthaler, this venture capitalist served as director, chairman or president of more than 30 companies. A National Venture Capital Association lifetime achievement award winner, this MIT engineering grad invested in hundreds of startups, including a litte computer company called Apple


15 victor scheinman

Victor Scheinman, assembly line robot inventor

According to a New York Times obituary, Scheinman “overcame his boyhood nightmares about a science-fiction movie humanoid to build the first successful electrically powered, computer-controlled industrial robot.” Scheinman had been with Stanford University’s mechanical engineering department when he developed the Stanford Arm, a six-jointed programmable robot adapted by manufacturers for uses ranging from windshield wipers to inkjet cartridges.


16 edward yourdon

Edward Yourdon, object orientation expert

This 1997 Computer Hall of Fame inductee, was a computer consultant and expert on software engineering principles, according to a Computerworld obit on Yourdon. Educated at MIT and Polytechnic Institute of New York, Yourdon co-developed notable methods for object-oriented analysis/design in the 1980s and 1990s, and earlier on, notable structured analysis techniques. He also blew the whistle early on possible Y2K-related computer problems, possibly helping to stave off real issues.



17 peter naur

Peter Naur, computer programming pioneer

This Danish astronomer-turned-programming expert earned the 2005 ACM A.M. Turing Award (“Nobel Prize in Computing”) for “fundamental contributions to programming language design and the definition of ALGOL 60, to compiler design, and to the art and practice of computer programming.  He’s credited for helping to make computing a credible academic field in Denmark in the 1960s, and became an outspoken critic of traditional structured programming concepts.


18 jim delligatti

Jim Delligatti, Big Mac creator

This McDonald’s franchisee in Uniontown, Pa., was said to have eaten one 540-calorie Big Mac (two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun) a week for decades after coming up with the fast-food sandwich in 1967, according to this USA Today obit. The popularity of the sandwich, initially priced at 45 cents, fueled its availability in the rest of Delligatti’s Pennsylvania stores as well as nationwide in 1968. Billions have since been sold.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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