Xerox PARC loses a "ubiquitous computing" guru

The research lab's chief technologist passed away this week -- and there's already a memorial Web site.

By Andrew Leonard
May 3, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Acting with the blazing speed typical of life in the core of techno-capitalism, the Stanford University Library has put up a memorial in honor of the recently deceased Mark Weiser, chief technologist at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

Weiser's name may not ring too many bells outside of Silicon Valley, but in tech circles he was a well-known and passionate advocate of "ubiquitous computing" -- the idea that in the next wave of computing, technology will be integrated into objects all around us, rather than centralized on desktops and mainframes.


"The most profound technologies are those that disappear," Weiser wrote in a paper titled The Computer for the 21st Century. "They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it." In his vision of the future, for example, your alarm clock will ask if you want coffee in the morning; say "yes," and it will start brewing before you're out of bed.

Weiser, who died on April 27 at the far-too-young age of 46, was also the drummer in the band Severe Tire Damage. STD are fondly remembered by Net historians as the first band to play live on the Internet, using the MBONE, a pioneering pipeline for Internet-based "multicasting."

The Weiser memorial site -- which includes interactive forums for people to share their memories of the scientist, as well as numerous links to his work and biography, and a separate memorial put up by Xerox PARC -- was dreamed up by Stanford's chief librarian, Michael Keller, and Paul Saffo, director of the Institute of the Future.


While the memorial may be a testament to how the Web is being used these days by Valley veterans, it's also an example of how the ambitious goals of
SiliconBase -- the Stanford Library's digital archive of the history of Silicon Valley, which participated in the site's design -- are being realized. In Weiser's case, however, history came all too soon.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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