Tribute to Michael Dertouzos (1936 — 2001)

August 30, 2001

Originally published August 30, 2001 on

The passing of Michael Dertouzos leaves a large void. I cannot think of anyone else who contributed in as many diverse ways, all of which were infused with his humanitarian concern, and optimism.

I recall a time in 1987, right before I was to speak to a group of MIT students, I was anxious to get to the lecture on time, but he was more eager to hear about my entrepreneurial struggles. Although I’ve had many such interchanges over the decades, I recall this one vividly because of the enthusiasm, delight and fatherly warmth he so innately displayed. I left that encounter greatly encouraged by his support, a feeling that has lasted to this day. He has done the same with countless students and innovators, as for example his mentoring of Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium, prior to the world having heard about Tim’s World Wide Web idea.

In addition to teacher and mentor, Michael was himself an innovator as an accomplished individual inventor, and as the director of MIT’s celebrated Laboratory for Computer Sciences for more than a quarter century. His most recent passion has been “Project Oxygen,” seeking to make computers “as natural a part of our environment as the air we breathe.” “Oxygen” is an apt symbol of Michael Dertouzos’ passion, which has been applying technology to meet human needs, and ultimately to relieve human suffering.