Alumni Hall of Fame 2006
Bill English joined SRI in the very early 1960s to work on magnetic devices. At SRI he became interested in their use as logic devices, which led to his building one of the first all-magnetic arithmetic units with Hew Crane.
The principal reason behind this Hall of Fame award, however, lies in his accomplishments in helping define the earliest expressions of personal computing. The first person to join Engelbart’s lab in 1964, he became the hardware architect of one of the first truly interactive computing systems. Relying on developments in the evolving world of timeshare computers, he led the fabrication and assemblage of those hardware elements needed to demonstrate a revolutionary capability we now call personal computing.
He also led a 1965 NASA project that evaluated the best means to select a point on a computer display. That proved to be the mouse, which Bill had a major role in creating. To meet the continuous need for monitoring computer input/output, he integrated instantly responsive electronic displays that became a cornerstone in interactive computing. This assemblage of equipment would become the basis for one of the most important events in the history of computing, a 90-minute live demonstration before the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco’s Civic Center Auditorium.
Although it was Doug who convinced the conference leaders to allow the demonstration, it was Bill who designed the means to connect a terminal in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium to its host at SRI, 30 miles away in Menlo Park. The connection would accommodate not only the digital data that needed to be passed but also the audio and video channels that would enable the first demonstration of a real time collaborative environment for two computer users. This moment was a true watershed in the history of computing and Bill was the principal person that pulled it together. Bill left SRI in 1971 to follow the rapidly growing personal computing field elsewhere. His accomplishments at SRI truly altered the future of computing, however, making him clearly deserving of this Hall of Fame award.
Jeff came to SRI in 1966 to work on some newly won projects being undertaken by Doug Engelbart and soon came to lead the software development for a new and dramatically different computing capability. This new capability involved the integration of an emerging class of hardware called timesharing and some evolving software unique to SRI. In response to Engelbart’s vision, Jeff and others created a highly responsive, computer-mediated, collaborative work environment. This new continuously-responsive computer environment would define, for the first time anywhere, much of what we think of as computing today.
The remarkable capability of the collaborative system was demonstrated at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco live before hundreds of people. To assure that it would work in such a prestigious and public forum, and over the protestations of his feature-hatching boss, he froze the software one month before the event. To assure success, Jeff and a colleague also built a very early dynamic recovery process so that any system failure would not likely be noticed. This recovery feature rescued them at least once that day. The historic event went successfully and the world saw for the first time an uninterrupted real-time display of a host of software-enabled features that included: on- line file creation and editing, window formation, hypertext linking, the mouse, remote online collaboration aided by audio and video conferencing, and much more. That demonstration was a watershed moment in the history of computing and Jeff, Bill English, and Doug Engelbart, were honored with a special ACM award in 1990 for these contributions
For his part in this historic change to the nature of computing, for his role in the formative days of the world’s first computer network, the ARPANET, and for writing one of the first machine-independent computer languages, we are proud to honor him
Since its earliest days, SRI has endeavored to bring innovation into the business world. A key innovation, from Stanford University, was decision analysis. In 1968, Carl and others formed a Decision Analysis Program in the Business Group. Eventually growing to 20 members, it successfully provided this problem-solving and planning discipline to SRI clients for 14 years. During this period, Carl focused on applying decision analysis to the intricate, sometimes entangled, world of strategic management.
Carl is also responsible for one innovation that truly changed the American financial landscape. In 1974, at the suggestion of Charles Anderson, Carl started a new program that would bring his analytical skills to the world of financial services. To learn the financial habits of the general public, he initiated a broad multiclient study of how the typical American family interacted with the available financial services. This study revealed a highly fractured, inertia-bound world that was clearly ripe for overhaul and simplification. Average affluent households dealt with as many as 20 different financial service vendors involving nearly twice that many products.
That clarity, unfolding in the latter part of the 1970s, together with insight that came from a careful reading of the banking laws of the day, convinced Carl and his group that all those products could be integrated under a single vendor, in this case, Merrill Lynch. Although Merrill Lynch strongly resisted such a sweeping and unsettling change, SRI convinced its president that they should offer such a one-stop financial service, called the Cash Management Account (CMA). For the first time an investor could deal with a single vendor and see a single, integrated financial statement. Banks challenged the approach around the country, but SRI’s work was sound and by the mid-1980s more than 1 million CMA customers used CMAs.
This Hall of Fame award is presented for Carl’s leadership in the growth of decision analysis at SRI, and for his key role in instigating a fundamental change in the U.S. financial service industry.