【Prof. Robert M. Fano追思會:劉炯朗校長憶恩師】

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【Prof. Robert M. Fano追思會:劉炯朗校長憶恩師】


MIT電腦暨人工智慧實驗室CSAIL前身-MIT Project MAC創始人Prof. Robert M. Fano,畢生致力於發展資訊理論及分時電腦系統,對資訊科技普及有莫大貢獻。

Prof. Fano於2016年7月辭世,曾在MIT受Prof. Fano指導的劉炯朗校長親赴波士頓參與追思會,談起恩師,真摯動人。


劉炯朗校長追憶Prof. Fano全文:


The day before yesterday, I flew from Taipei to Boston, retracing a journey I took 58 years ago when I came to MIT for my graduate study. To-day, I come to remember and to say thanks to Bob Fano.

I remember Bob as a charming, loving, caring person. I thank Bob for giving me the opportunity to launch my career in Computer Science, and for teaching me the true meaning of life.

As an undergraduate student in Taiwan, I never heard of the name Roberto Mario Fano. However, I quickly found out who he was after I arrived at MIT. I took a class in Electromagnetic Theory. One of the text books for the course was “Electromagnetic Fields, Energy, and Forces,” by Bob Fano, Lan Chu, and Dick Adler.
Then I took a class in Information Theory. The text book was “Transmission of Information: A Statistical Theory of Communication,” by Bob Fano. MIT’s Radiation Laboratory’s work in Radar system during the Second World War has given new perspectives to the classical Electromagnetic Theory. Claude Shannon’s work in Information Theory has opened up a new area of research. Bob was an intellectual superstar in both of these areas. We all looked at him in awe.

Yet, in the dawn of the time-shared computer era in the early 1960s, with clear vision and unfailing dedication, Bob took up the leadership of Project MAC to study “Multiple-Accessed Computer” and “Machine-Aided Cognition”. Two brand new concepts at that time, yet two important concepts that drove the development of Computer Science in many subsequent years.

Project MAC was launched with a Summer Study in July 1963. Over 50 experts in the computing field from around the world were invited to come to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group of unsurpassed intellectual prowess, with the possible exception when Alan Turing was working alone at King’s College in Cambridge, England.

Together with members from the MIT community, the group included Lick Licklider, Ed Fredkin, Maurice Wilkes, Gene Amdahl, Doug Engelbart, Arthur Samuels, Jean Sammet, Joe Weizenbaum, Ted Glaser, Bob Graham, and (from MIT) John MaCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Herb Teager, Corby Corbato, David Huffman, Jack Dennis, Fred Hennie, Tom Stockham, Dick Kain, and Mike Dertouzos. Every morning at 10, Bob would walk around the corridor, ringing a small bell held in his hand, herding us to get together to work. We all drank from the fire hose.
I was then a newly minted Assistant Professor. I went to ask Bob whether I could join Project MAC. Without hesitation, he said “YES” and assigned me to a nice office on the 6th floor of 545 Tech Square. He also told me “Just do your work, I shall find the funding to support your research.” I followed his order.

I designed and implemented a Table- Driven Compiler System. Bob asked me to talk about that in a Project MAC Industrial Affiliation Program meeting. I wanted to teach a new course in Combinatorial Mathematics. Only 6 students signed up for the course, but Bob told me to go ahead and do it. He even came to visit my lecture once. I published the lecture notes of the course as a textbook in 1968. Bob suggested that I study the Viterbi Decoding Algorithm. I ended up teaching a graduate class in Algebraic Coding Theory. I learned, and I grew under Bob’s wing.

The impact of Project MAC was significant and far reaching. Computer Science was organized as an academic discipline. From Multics, came Unix. From APARnet, came CSnet and Internet. Today, with the Internet, any computer can be connected to any computer; with the Web any document can be connected to any document; with the social networks any person can be connected to any person; and with the Internet of Things, anything can be connected to anything. Bob foresaw that, and also was able to witness all of that in his life time.

Beginning with notion of time-shared computers, Bob exemplified the spirit of sharing in a most splendid way. As a teacher, he shared his knowledge with his students; as a leader, he shared his vision with his followers; as an elder, he shared his wisdom with his juniors, as a bon vivant, he shared the joy of life with people around him; and as a papa, he shared with us, his bambini, kindness, thoughtfulness, and consideration.

In the famous Amusement Park, Disneyland, there is a ride called “It’s a Small World”. The theme song of the ride said: 
“There’s so much that we share, 
That it’s time we’re aware, 
It is a small world after all.”

For those of us who were fortunate enough to share some very good time with Bob, it was also a beautiful world.

I shall always remember and thank Bob.