BUSINESS ISSUES

Computer graphics pioneer Ivan Sutherland wins Kyoto Prize

Jun 22, 2012 01:06 pm | IDG News Service
The Inamori Foundation recognizes Sutherland for his breakthrough contributions to the graphical user interface

by Agam Shah

Ivan Sutherland, widely considered to be the father of computer graphics, was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology by the Inamori Foundation on Friday for his contributions to the field.

Sutherland changed the way computers are used, and his influence is being felt today in multiple fields, the Inamori Foundation, which is based in Kyoto, Japan, said in a statement. "Numerous computer graphic-based applications -- ranging from films, games and virtual reality systems to educational materials, scientific and technological simulations, and other design aids for engineers -- are descendants of Dr. Sutherland's original work on Sketchpad," the foundation said.

Sutherland, who is 74 and a scientist at Portland State University, made breakthrough contributions to graphical user interfaces used in most operating systems today, making computers, tablets and smartphones easier to use. His most recognized GUI contribution was through a computer program called Sketchpad, which allowed a pointing device to interact and manipulate visible objects on a computer screen. Sketchpad was submitted as part of Sutherland's doctoral thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963.

His goal with Sketchpad was to expand the use of computers to a new class of users such as artists. Sutherland's experiments were carried out on a TX-2 computer at MIT.

Sutherland's contributions were considered way ahead of the time and the Sketchpad innovation has been linked to the commercialization of Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Macintosh user interfaces. Sketchpad was one of the influences in the creation of Xerox Star, a workstation released in 1981 that came with a GUI, computer mouse and Ethernet. Apple created the Macintosh GUI, but the company hired people from Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center with past experience in creating the Xerox Alto and Star user interfaces.

Sutherland has also been recognized for his contributions to virtual reality and 3D computer graphics. He was awarded the coveted A.M. Turing Award by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 1988 for his contributions to the field of computer graphics.

Sutherland has taught at Harvard University, the University of Utah and the California Institute of Technology. His students include Edwin Catmull, the co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Studios, and James Clark, who founded Silicon Graphics. In 1968, Sutherland started his own company, Evans and Sutherland Computer Corporation, where employees included John Warnock, who co-founded Adobe Systems in 1982.

From 1991 to 2009, Sutherland was a fellow and vice president at Sun Microsystems, where he conducted research on circuits and system design.