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Michael L. Dertouzos

Professor Michael L. Dertouzos PhD ’64, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS), died Monday night at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 64 years old.

Dertouzos had served as director of LCS since 1974, ten years after he joined MIT’s faculty. Under his leadership, LCS expanded to become one of the largest research labs on campus, with 400 faculty members, graduate students, and research staff.

“Few individuals have so personally and profoundly shaped their institutions and professional fields. Yet he did so in a manner that respected and involved all of his colleagues. I will miss his personal friendship and counsel very much,” President Charles M. Vest said to Tech Talk.

Colleagues of Dertouzos remember him as a visionary who championed the development of technology with an eye towards human utility. “He set an incredible percentage of the agenda for computer science [in the past several years],” Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Harold Abelson PhD ’73 said. “He was the first guy who said we should use computers for education, back when we had about ten computers on campus.”

“In 1975, he went around with this crazy idea that someday there will be computers in the home,” Abelson said.

“[Michael] thought of things years before anyone else did. While often suffering ridicule prematurely, he was invariably vindicated eventually. For example, in 1980, he wrote and spoke about the Information Marketplace, in which hundreds of millions of computers would be interconnected via a worldwide network to enable billions of people to create, access, and freely exchange information. It took nearly twenty years for the Internet and the Worldwide Web to prove him right,” said Associate Director of LCS Victor W. Zue SCD ’76.

Recently, under Dertouzos’s guidance, LCS has spearheaded and supported several notable initiatives, including the World Wide Web consortium, Project Athena, and the $50 million Oxygen project, whose purpose is to make computers easier to use, “as natural a part of our environment as the air we breathe.” LCS has also been the foundation for several successful startups such as RSA and Akamai.

Dertouzos a prodigious author

Dertouzos, who was raised in Greece, came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship and earned his B.S. and M.S. at the University of Arkansas. He received his doctorate in electrical engineering at MIT in 1964. He subsequently joined the faculty as an assistant professor and became a full professor in 1973.

Dertouzos also holds patents for a graphical display system, an incremental photoelectric encoder, a graphic tablet, and for a parallel thermal printer. Dertouzos has written numerous books, including the best-seller “What Will Be” (1997) and “Made in America” (1986). His latest book, “The Unfinished Revolution: Human Centered Computers and What They Can Do for Us” (2001), discusses the need to make computers more accessible and easier to use.

In one of his last public speaking engagements, at the MIT Alumni Asia Pacific Conference, Dertouzos delivered a keynote address charging the audience to reconcile the technologist and humanist..

The funeral service will be held on Monday in Athens; a memorial service will follow at MIT. Donations may be sent to Athens College, 342 Madison Avenue, Suite 16161, New York, NY, 10173.