Bob Metcalfe, the longtime Boston-area venture capitalist and publisher, has been awarded the 2023 Turing Award for his role in creating the networking technology Ethernet.
The Turing Award, named for British computing pioneer Alan Turing, includes a $1 million prize. The award is given annually by the Association for Computing Machinery to people who have made world-changing contributions to computer technology. Previous winners include artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky, developers of digital encryption Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web.
In 1972, having earned a computer science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in mathematics from Harvard University, Metcalfe joined Xerox Corp.’s famed PARC research lab in Palo Alto, Calif., where engineers invented the point-and-click graphical interface, the laser printer, and one of the earliest personal computers. Metcalfe and colleague David Boggs developed Ethernet in 1973 as a simple way to let these personal computers communicate directly with each other over a wired connection.
“Imagine the mission,” said Metcalfe in an interview with the Globe. “Bob, build a network that will support a personal computer on every desk. Can you imagine putting a computer on every desk? That was novel in 1973.”
Ethernet faced off against a competing technology from IBM, which dominated the computer industry at the time. But Metcalfe’s system won out to become the universal networking method.
“The main factor was that it was a truly open standard,” capable of working with any brand of computer, Metcalfe said. Today’s Ethernet is very different from the original version. For instance, the original Ethernet system used heavy coaxial cable similar to that used for cable television. Today’s version uses thinner, lighter cables with far more data-carrying capacity. Still, variants of the original Ethernet connect countless millions of computers around the world.
Metcalfe later founded the networking company 3Com. In 1991, he transitioned to journalism, spending a decade as publisher and columnist for InfoWorld magazine, published by Framingham-based IDG. In venture capital, he invested in renewable energy projects as a partner at Boston-based Polaris Partners from 2001 to 2010.
In 2011, he became a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Texas. Last year, Metcalfe was named a research affiliate in computational engineering at MIT.