Ethernet Pioneer Bob Metcalfe Takes Home Computing's Most Prestigious Prize

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Today, computer networking pioneer Bob Metcalf has been recognized for the creation of Ethernet, receiving one of the highest honors of the computing world. MIT graduate Metcalfe has been named by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) as the winner of the 2022 A.M Turing Award, often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Computing.” Thanks to the generosity of Google, this prestigious award has a juicy cherry on top – a $1 million prize.

Where would we be without the invention, standardization and commercialization of Ethernet? Thankfully, we have no idea, as Bob Metcalfe came up with this still core and omnipresent networking standard back in 1973, while working as a computer scientist at the fabled Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

bob metcalfe ethernet portrait

The first Ethernet implementation ran about 10,000 faster than the terminal networks it replaced. Its initial 2.94Mbps performance was thus considered astonishing in its day. Moreover, the technology was designed to be flexible, and adaptable enough to meld with future innovations in telephony, optical communications, radio, and more.

Ethernet’s proving ground was the aforementioned PARC, where Metcalfe worked with David Boggs, a co-inventor of Ethernet, to build a 100-node PARC Ethernet. This installation was replicated throughout Xerox to provide a corporate network.

Metcalfe left Xerox in 1979, but through continued work with the firm plus major tech players like DEC and Intel, he helped steer the IEEE 802 committee to establish a local area network (LAN) standard. In the same year, he set up 3Com Corporation to sell Ethernet hardware and software. IBM’s first PC models would use Ethernet networking, and the success of the PC would guarantee the place of Ethernet in personal computing.

Nowadays, mainstream Ethernet speeds are measured in Gigabits, and even Wi-Fi (Wireless Ethernet) has entered this scale of measure. There are approximately five billion internet users worldwide who rely on Ethernet technology for their entertainment, study, and even their livelihoods.

Jeff Dean, Google Senior Fellow and SVP of Google Research and AI, congratulated Metcalfe on his award, and thanked him for his “enduring vision that every computer needed to be networked.”

turing award

Bob Metcalfe is Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at The University of Texas at Austin. He is also a still busy as a Research Affiliate in Computational Engineering at MIT, working specifically in the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).