Former SoC Professor Wins 2012 Kyoto Prize

Ivan Sutherland, a former University of Utah computer science professor (1968-1974) and co-founder of Salt Lake City’s Evans & Sutherland has won the 2012 Kyoto Prize for “pioneering achievements in the development of computer graphics and interactive interfaces.”

Awarded by Kazuo Inamori, the founder of Japanese electronics and ceramics manufacturer Kyocera Corp., the Kyoto Prize recognizes outstanding works in the categories of advanced technology, basic sciences, and arts and philosophy. Within each category, the prize rotates among disciplines (electronics, biotechnology, materials science and engineering, and information science are part of the “advanced technology” rotation). Each Kyoto Laureate receives a diploma, a 20-karat gold medal, and prize money of 50 million yen (currently worth almost $629,000).

Often considered a precursor to the Nobel Prize, Kyoto Laureates are internationally recognized scholars considered to be leaders in their fields whose works have contributed to humanity. Sutherland is a pioneer for his fundamental contributions to computer graphics, most notably for Sketchpad, an interactive and graphical interface to a computer.

“Sketchpad was the foundation on which graphics, graphical user interfaces, object-oriented programming, automated computer-aided design and interactive computing was built,” says Al Davis, department chair and professor of computer science at the University of Utah. “All of these are ubiquitous in today’s computing environment.”

Born in Nebraska in 1938, Sutherland received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963 before joining the faculty of Harvard University in 1965. After establishing the computer science division at the University of Utah, computer science professor David Evans recruited Sutherland from Harvard University to the U. Together they founded pioneering computer graphics company Evans & Sutherland in 1968.

For the next two decades, the duo helmed the development of computer systems for simulations using computer graphics, including simulators for commercial flight training, digital projectors for planetariums and other entertainment applications. After leaving the U in 1974, Sutherland was on the faculty at Caltech and was vice-president at Sun Microsystems until 2009. He is currently a visiting scientist at Portland State University.

“Ivan was a role model who inspired an entire generation of students at Utah to do things that others believed to be either too hard or maybe even impossible,” Davis adds. “Ivan and Dave (Evans) launched a culture at Utah: ‘Think of what is needed in ten years and make it happen today.’ Much of this culture persists today.”

Read more in the Inamori Foundation’s Press Release