Bob Metcalfe ’68 wins $1 million Turing Award

Robert “Bob” Metcalfe ’68, an MIT Laptop Science and Synthetic Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) analysis affiliate and MIT Company life member emeritus, has been awarded the Affiliation for Computing Equipment (ACM) A.M. Turing Award for his invention of Ethernet. Sometimes called the “Nobel Prize of computing,” the award comes with a $1 million prize supplied by Google. 

Metcalfe, the founding father of 3Com Corp., the corporate that designed, developed, and manufactured laptop networking tools and software program, was cited by the ACM for the “invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet,” one of many earliest and most also used networking applied sciences. 3Com, Metcalfe’s Silicon Valley startup based in 1979, helped to extend the business viability of Ethernet by promoting community software program, Ethernet transceivers, and Ethernet playing cards for minicomputers and workstations. 3Com launched one of many first Ethernet interfaces for IBM PCs and their clones when IBM launched its private laptop.

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A present analysis affiliate in computational engineering at MIT, Metcalfe can be an emeritus professor {of electrical} and laptop engineering after 11 years at The College of Texas at Austin. Metcalfe graduated from MIT in 1969 with bachelor’s levels in electrical engineering and industrial administration.

“Bob’s work has profoundly impacted laptop science and the world, which can’t be overstated,” says Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor within the MIT Division of Electrical Engineering and Laptop Science (EECS). “With the invention of Ethernet, he enabled seamless communication and data sharing, paving the way in which for numerous functions which have turn out to be integral to our day by day lives. From the web to on-line video streaming and past, Ethernet has shaped the inspiration of recent expertise and reworked how we join. It is arduous to fathom life with out the connectivity that Ethernet has made attainable.”

Ethernet, start

Metcalfe’s famend 1973 memo on a “broadcast communication community” proposed linking the primary private computer systems, PARC’s Altos, in a single constructing, which paved a means for the units to speak to one another and share info in an area space community. The primary Ethernet clocked in at 2.94 megabits per second, roughly 10,000 instances quicker than the terminal networks it changed. The memo instructed that the community needs to be adaptable to new applied sciences equivalent to optical fiber, twisted pair, Wi-Fi, and energy networks and to swap out the unique coaxial cable as the first technique of communication to “over an ether.” The contribution was later immortalized of their 1976 Communications of the ACM article, “Ethernet: Distributed Packet Switching for Local Computer Networks.”  

However what got here earlier than Ethernet? Metcalfe likes to name it some model of luck. “My first activity at Xerox was to place it on the ARPANET, which I had already executed for Undertaking MAC. I constructed the required {hardware} and software program and Xerox obtained it related. Later, the Laptop Science Lab at Xerox PARC aimed to create the primary fashionable private laptop and have one on each desk — think about that,” he says. “So that they requested me to design a community for this goal. I used to be given a card with 60 chips for the community. That was the second-biggest stroke of luck in my life. The primary one was being born to my mother and father.”

Metcalfe was not alone in pursuing environment friendly community communication; he related as nicely with David Boggs, the co-inventor of Ethernet, who handed away final yr. Metcalfe and Boggs got down to keep away from utilizing wires, an concept that was short-lived. “We went to a spot that had packet radio community on the College of Hawaii and noticed instantly that we could not have zero wires. The radios have been simply too massive and costly and sluggish. We would must have greater than zero wires, so we determined to have one. And this one wire could be shared among the many connected PCs.”

Making issues normal

Metcalfe and Boggs cooked up a recipe of Jerrold faucets, Manchester encoding, and ALOHA randomized retransmissions to deliver Ethernet to life. The primary would puncture the coaxial cable and fix to the semiconductor with out reducing the cable. Manchester encoding allowed the clock to be within the packet. Lastly, ALOHA randomized retransmissions allowed for turn-taking. The 2 then constructed and connected many stations to the Ethernet and wrote community protocols to make use of it.

“We needed to make Ethernet normal. I served because the so-called ‘marriage dealer’ connecting Digital Gear Company, then the second-largest laptop firm on the earth, and Intel Company, a model new semiconductor firm, and Xerox Company, a big methods vendor,” says Metcalfe. “We created the DIX Ethernet normal and submitted it to the IEEE. A few painful years later, it obtained standardized. Then a giant combat ensued between the Ethernet corporations and IBM and Common Motors, a three-way battle. Common Motors misplaced shortly, and IBM held on for 20 years. All of them needed their expertise to be the usual everyone used to attach computer systems. Ethernet gained.”

At this time, Ethernet is the primary conduit of wired community communications worldwide, dealing with information charges from 10 megabits per second to 400 gigabits per second (Gbps), with 800 Gbps and 1.6 terabits per second applied sciences rising. In consequence, Ethernet has additionally turn out to be an unlimited market, with income from Ethernet switches alone exceeding $30 billion in 2021, based on the Worldwide Knowledge Corp.  

Life at MIT

MIT has lengthy been a second dwelling to Metcalfe, the place he couldn’t keep away for lengthy.

From 1970 to 1972, he labored on placing MIT on the ARPANET in J.C.R. Licklider’s dynamic modeling methods group. “This was all on the ninth ground of Tech Sq. — the place all the pieces attention-grabbing on the earth was occurring” says Metcalfe. “I returned to MIT in 1979, after I left Xerox, and have become a marketing consultant to Michael Dertouzos. I used to be peddling Ethernet, and Mike’s individuals have been peddling one thing known as a ‘token ring.’ He and I have been on reverse sides of a giant argument. He was pro-token ring, and I used to be pro-Ethernet. Dertouzos needed me to hitch that combat, which I did by way of most of 1979, throughout which I based the 3Com Company whereas at LCS.” 

Metcalfe has been a member of the MIT Company since 1992. In 1997-98 he served as president of the MIT Alumni Affiliation. He served as MIT Visiting Innovation Fellow with the Innovation Initiative and Division of Electrical Engineering and Laptop Science throughout the 2015-16 educational yr, throughout which he mentored college students on all issues entrepreneurship. In 2022, Metcalfe joined CSAIL as a analysis affiliate to pursue analysis in computational engineering.

“Ethernet is the foundational expertise of the web, which helps greater than 5 billion customers and permits a lot of recent life,” says Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow and senior vp of Google Analysis and AI, within the official ACM announcement. “At this time, with an estimated 7 billion ports across the globe, Ethernet is so ubiquitous that we take it with no consideration. Nonetheless, it is easy to overlook that our interconnected world wouldn’t be the identical with out Bob Metcalfe’s invention and his enduring imaginative and prescient that each laptop should be networked.”

Previous Turing Award recipients who’ve taught at MIT embody Sir Tim Berners-Lee (2017), Michael Stonebraker (2014), Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali (2013), Barbara Liskov (2008), Ronald Rivest (2002), Butler Lampson (1992), Fernando Corbato (1990), John McCarthy (1971) and Marvin Minsky (1969).

Metcalfe will likely be formally offered with the A.M. Turing Award on the annual ACM Awards Banquet, held this yr on June 10 on the Palace Resort in San Francisco.


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