2017: A sad retrospective on the tech pioneers who’ve passed away

We look back at the technology pioneers who have passed away this year, and the legacies that they have left behind. (The list below is in alphabetical order.)

Samson Abioye 

25 March 1991 – 28 July 2017

Nigerian computer programmer and internet entrepreneur

Nigerian programmer and entrepreneur co-founded, a self-testing online platform which helps students practice for national examinations, in 2013. It won Airtel's Catapult-a-Startup in 2014, the 2015 AAI pitch-fest competition, and the West Africa Mobile Awards (WAMAS) in 2016.

Samson Abioye died on the morning of 28th July 2017, aged 26.

Charles W. Bachman

11 December 1924 – 13 July 2017

American computer scientist

Bachman was an early pioneer in database management software – the first to make it possible to share data across different applications using his Integrated Data Store software, first demonstrated in 1963. Bachman was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation – the highest honor bestowed upon scientists, engineers and inventors – by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Charles Bachman died on 13 July, of Parkinson's disease, at the age of 92.


Peter Bird

1934 - 16 August 2017

British computer operator

Bird worked at J Lyons & Co between 1964 and 1991, starting as a computer operator on the LEO III computer before rising to company director of Lyons Computer Services. Bird wrote two books on the history of the evolution of business computers and became a consultant on Lyons’ history for television programs.

Peter Bird died on 16 August, aged 82.

Vanu Bose

4 October 1965 – 11 November 2017

American electrical engineer and technology executive

Bose was the founder and CEO of Vanu, Inc. – the first company to receive certification for software-defined radio from the US Federal Communications Commission. The company’s cellular technology extended service to people living in remote regions of the world.

Vanu Bose died suddenly on 11 November 2017 of a pulmonary embolism, aged 52.

Daniel G. Bobrow

29 November 1935 – 20 March 2017

American computer scientist

One of the first pioneers in Artificial Intelligence, Bobrow helped to develop artificial intelligence program STUDENT, operating system TENEX, programming language Interlisp; and more recently, Powerset, the natural language search engine.

Daniel Bobrow died at home on 20 March, aged 81.

Ron Crane

June 1, 1950 - June 19, 2017

American electrical engineer

Crane is credited with designing the EtherLink, the first network interface controller for the IBM PC. He was a founding member of 3Com, where he was issued five patents related to Ethernet transmission technology. He later co-founded LAN Media Corporation, where he developed fast Ethernet technology, and wide area networking products.

Ron Crane died on 19 June, aged 67.

Richard "Gary" Daniels

24 October 1937 – 22 May 2017

American engineer

Daniels was known as the “Father” of Motorola 6805 MCU and was awarded with the highest technical recognition – Motorola Dan Noble Fellow. He managed Motorola’s microprocessor development in Austin, Texas, and awarded 12 US patents.

Richard Daniels died on 22 May 2017, aged 79.

Harry Huskey 

19 January 1916 – 9 April 2017

American computer design pioneer

Huskey was instrumental in the development of some of the earliest computers – he began his digital career in the mid-1940s with the ENIAC; he worked on the Pilot ACE computer with Alan Turing and others; he was involved with the EDVAC and SEAC computer projects. He also designed the G15 computer, the predecessor to today’s laptops.

Harry Huskey died on 9 April, at the age of 101.


Peter Lawrenson

12 March 1933 - 27 October 2017

British electrical engineer

Lawrenson was instrumental in the development of switched reluctance (SR) drive technology, winning him the 2005 IEEE Edison Medal “For outstanding contributions to the field of electrical machines, most notably the development and commercialization of switched reluctance drives”.

Peter Lawrenson died on 27 October, aged 84.

Dick Morley

1 December 1932 – 17 October 2017

American electrical engineer

Known as the “father of the PLC”, Morley was the initial designer of the first Programmable Logic Controller, produced by Modicon, in response to a request for proposals for an electronic replacement for hard-wired relay systems from GM Hydra-Matic in 1968. The PLC is recognized as a significant advancement in the practice of automation, and continues to be used extensively in the automotive industry.

Dick Morley died on 17 October at the age of 84.

Masaya Nakamura

24 December 1925 – 22 January 2017

Japanese businessman and founder of Namco

Nakamura is considered “the father of Pac-Man” after he founded Bandai Namco – the video game company that released Pac-Man in 1980 – as Nakamura Manufacturing in 1955. The game was developed by Toru Iwatani and is one of the highest-grossing video games of all time. Guinness World Records awarded the Pac-Man series eight records in Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008.

Masaya Nakamura died on 22 January at the age of 91.

Maurice Nivat

21 December 1937 – 21 September 2017

French computer scientist

One of the fathers of theoretical computer science, Nivat was one of the founders of the EATCS in 1972. In the same year, he organized the first ICALP conference at INRIA in Paris. In 1975, he co-founded journal Theoretical Computer Science, where he was editor-in-chief for over 25 years.

Maurice Nivat died on 21 September at the age of 79.

Paul Otellini

12 October 1950 – 2 October 2017

American businessman

Paul Otellini became Intel’s fifth chief executive officer in 2005, and the first who was not an engineer. He was responsible for winning the Apple PC business in 2005, and during his eight-year tenure as CEO, the company generated more revenue than it did during the company’s previous 45 years.

Paul Otellini died in his sleep on 2 October, at the age of 66.

Robert Taylor 

10 February 1932 – 13 April 2017

American internet pioneer

At Arpa (now Darpa), Taylor convinced his boss to invest $500,000 of taxpayer money to build a computer network – the Arpanet – which was the precursor to the internet. Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt said of Talylor, “[he] invented almost everything in one form or another that we use today in the office and at home.”

Robert Taylor died at his home in Woodside, California, on 13 April 2017, aged 85.

Charles P. “Chuck” Thacker

26 February 1943 – 12 June 2017

American pioneer computer designer

Thacker is credited with designing the first modern personal computer, the Xerox Alto, the first computer that used a mouse-driven Graphical User Interface. He was also co-inventor of the Ethernet. In recognition of his work, he was awarded the 2009 Turing Award.

Chuck Thacker died of complications from esophageal cancer on 12 June 12, aged 74.


Geoff Tootill

4 March 1922 – 26 October 2017

British computer scientist

Tootill was part of the team in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Manchester that developed ‘Baby’ – the world’s first programmable computer, the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine. On 21 June 1948, ‘Baby’ became the first computer in the world to run a program electronically stored in its memory, rather than hard-wired in or on paper tape. Tootill was also a founding member of the British Computer Society in 1956.

Geoff Tootill died on 26 October, aged 95.

Edith Windsor

20 June 1929 – 12 September 2017

American systems programmer and LGBT rights activist

Windsor began working on the Atomic Energy Commission’s UNIVAC computer, which was installed at NYU, where she was studying for her master’s in applied mathematics. Thanks to this early work Windsor was able to get a job as a mainframe programmer at IBM in 1958. By May 1968 she had reached the highest level technical position at IBM, Senior Systems Programmer. Windsor was a prominent LGBT activist and much-loved icon; she was the lead plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, a case that successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was considered a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States. In a eulogy at her funeral, Hillary Clinton described Windsor as “a path breaker first in science and computers and then in social history and politics and culture.”

Edith “Edie” Windsor died on 12 September, aged 88.

Eli Zelkha

4 May 1950 – 8 January 2017

American entrepreneur, venture capitalist and professor

Born in Tehran, Zelkha went on to become founder or co-founder of five companies. In 1998, Zeklha led the team that invented and initially developed ambient intelligence – a concept that has become part of the core strategies of many of the world’s leading technology companies.

Eli Zelkha died on 8 January in Woodside, California at the age of 66.


Read more:

2016: Notable tech deaths
Looking back at tech pioneers we lost in 2015


«How rugged IT is creating peace of mind in the enterprise


2017 in numbers»
Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail

Most Recent Comments

Our Case Studies

IDG Connect delivers full creative solutions to meet all your demand generatlon needs. These cover the full scope of options, from customized content and lead delivery through to fully integrated campaigns.


Our Marketing Research

Our in-house analyst and editorial team create a range of insights for the global marketing community. These look at IT buying preferences, the latest soclal media trends and other zeitgeist topics.



Should the government regulate Artificial Intelligence?