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Ivan Sutherland

Last Edit: 14/01/19

Ivan Sutherland is an American computer scientist -- born in 1938, and studied at Carnegie Mellon University, Caltech and MIT -- who is referred to as one of the 'pioneers of the Internet' and computer science. In the early 1960's ARPA (now named DARPA) decided to fund the creation of a wide area computer network, the department of ARPA eventually given 'charge' to plan and build the network was the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO). Ivan Sutherland's predessor as director of the IPTO was J.C.R. Licklider, and it was Licklider who put in motion the idea of building a North American wide area computer network.

Ivan Sutherland, inventor of the Sketchpad, displaying it in an early 1960's demo
(Pictured: Ivan Sutherland, inventor of the Sketchpad, displaying it in an early 1960's demo)

J.C.R. Licklider was director of the IPTO from 1962-1964 -- Licklider then decided to leave and work for IBM -- and was replaced by Ivan Sutherland. In 1963, Licklider had circulated a memo at IPTO that outlined a time-sharing computer network, this memo would inspire later directors of the IPTO, Sutherland amongst them. Sutherland was young (26) when he become IPTO director, but he was a rising star in the world of computer science: having invented the Sketchpad (pictured above) and demo'd it on television in 1962; the Sketchpad was capable of storing in memory a computer display, and was the genesis of computer graphics and video games.

One of Sutherland's most important decisions as director of the IPTO was hiring Lawrence 'Larry' Roberts -- who worked at MIT's Lincoln Lab -- to conduct a computer networking experiment in 1965. The experiment involved Larry Roberts and Thomas Merrill, and was a successful attempt at initiating a packet exchange through a telephone connection -- the data was transferred between a computer at MIT and a computer in California. Sutherland decided to leave the IPTO in 1966, having become an associate professor at Harvard University in 1965 (Electrical Engineering). Sutherland was replaced as director of the IPTO by Bob Taylor, who managed to persuade Larry Roberts to leave MIT and build ARPANET -- the computer network envisaged by Licklider and Sutherland.

Ivan Sutherland became a professor at Utah University in 1968. ARPANET began to be built in 1968, and was ready to be tested by the end of 1969. The first test of ARPANET included four nodes -- each installed with a Interface Message Processor (IMP) -- and one of these nodes was located at Utah University and was managed by Ivan Sutherland. The computer used at the Utah University ARPANET node was a DEC PDP-10 with a TENEX operating system (both designed by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)).

Sutherland's contribution to computer science is not restricted to ARPANET and the Internet. In 1968, he co-founded Evans & Sutherland, which describes itself as "the world's first computer graphics company."