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2016’s notable deaths in technology, science & inventions
Source: Bob Brown

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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)

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