In Memoriam: Bob Spinrad

“In the end, one must wonder about the basic changes to be wrought by office automation. At the technical level, we will surely see a stream of impressive new devices and rich supporting software enabling the widespread dispersion of integrated information systems. But the most profound effects will probably occur at the personal level, in the way we do things using these systems. Certainly we will gain new power – radically increased speed and flexibility in manipulating the substance of our working lives. But, more important, we will have found a new medium of interacting with others. Because of this, these systems will have the power to draw us closer together and change the ways we work and live.” — Spinrad on office automation in Science (February 1982)

Robert (Bob) Spinrad, one of PARC’s early leaders and computing pioneer, passed away on 2 September from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Many will remember him as a scholar and a gentleman who had both a deep enthusiasm for new technology, and an understanding of the human nature and corporate politics that can hinder its progress in the world.

Some of the details of his long and productive career are captured in the New York Times’ obituary (and will also be summarized on the website dedicated to him). Bob came to Xerox PARC by way of Scientific Data Systems, which he joined in 1968 and Xerox bought a year later. Bob was the manager of Xerox PARC from 1978 until 1980, and then co-manager of PARC and head of its Systems Center collection of research sub-organizations until 1983. During this time PARC made a number of advancements in personal computing and more.

When he later moved to corporate positions at Xerox, Bob maintained his principal office at PARC and kept PARC ideas at the forefront of long-term strategy discussions, notably planning for 2000 and 2005. In addition to his visionary quote above, here are a couple more excerpts from his writings.

We welcome your quotes and memories of Bob and his career in the comments below. A memorial will be held for him in PARC’s George E. Pake Auditorium on 20 October.

[A professor in the future has spent a day at his desk, reading, writing, organizing and communicating.] “Then, just for fun, he retrieved the University’s electronic bulletin board. Ads. Rides to share. Protests. Causes. Jokes. …In a funny way you could take the pulse of the University by reading the bulletin board. Up. Down. Tense. Easy. The beat of the community flowed before your eye on the glowing screen.” — Spinrad on the electronic university in Cohabiting With Computers

“When it comes to the Internet, it seems everyone is saying, What the hell’s going on? It has a curious, troubling, fascinating presence. Predictions about it are all over the map.” The Internet will flatten organizational hierarchies: “There’s no need for that large coordinating function any more – it no longer makes sense.” — Futurists look at the big picture, in Toronto Globe and Mail (September 1998)

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