Inventing the Sketchpad and Sutherland’s Other Pioneering Contributions

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KYOTO, JAPAN — June 22, 2012 — The Inamori Foundation today announced that Dr. Ivan Edward Sutherland , 74, has been selected to receive the 28th annual Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology in the field of Information Science. Dr. Sutherland is an American computer scientist, and a visiting scientist at Portland State University. He is widely considered to be the “Father of Computer Graphics” for his lifetime of work developing pioneering visual methods of interacting with computers and other technologies.

Dr. Sutherland is perhaps best known for developing Sketchpad in 1963, a graphical interface program that allowed the user to directly manipulate figures on a screen through a pointing device. Sketchpad’s interactive interface was years ahead of its time, and today’s computer-aided design (CAD) systems are just one common example of how this innovation has contributed to the field. Numerous computer graphic-based applications – ranging from films, games and virtual reality systems to educational materials, scientific and technological simulations, and other design aids for industrial engineers – are descendants of Dr. Sutherland’s original work on Sketchpad.

Dr. Sutherland also has enjoyed the privilege of working with two past Kyoto Prize laureates. As a doctoral candidate at M.I.T. during the 1960s, his dissertation on Sketchpad was supervised by Dr. Claude Elwood Shannon, the very first Kyoto Prize laureate in Basic Sciences (1985). Dr. Sutherland also worked with Dr. Alan Curtis Kay (2004 Kyoto Prize laureate in Advance Technology) in the early 1970s. In his commemorative lecture upon receiving the Kyoto Prize, Dr. Kay recalled that Sketchpad’s innovation was one of the reasons he chose to focus his career on developing object-oriented programming.

The Work of Dr. Sutherland
Dr. Sutherland developed Sketchpad to be a program capable of automatically generating accurate drawings from rough sketches by depicting the component elements of objects and their interrelationships. With Sketchpad, he demonstrated that computer graphics created by human-computer interaction could be used for both technical and artistic purposes. It was a major breakthrough in the development of computer graphics, and later served as the foundation of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) most commonly associated today with computers, video games, smartphones and more.

Dr. Sutherland has also designed many of the fundamental algorithms now used in computer graphics, such as the algorithm that determines which edges and faces of an object to display in the limited space available on a screen. In 1968 he created “The Sword of Damocles,” the world’s first head-mounted 3D display system, which opened a new field of virtual reality. In addition to his research at universities, Dr. Sutherland has been actively involved in product development at various private enterprises, where he has mentored and influenced many other computer-graphics innovators, including those who founded companies like Pixar Animation Studios, Adobe Systems Inc. and Silicon Graphics, Inc., to name a few.

His work today focuses on asynchronous circuits. As the performance of semiconductor devices continues to advance, the processing capabilities of synchronous circuits – the most common logic circuits in use today – will ultimately reach their limits. Together with his wife, Ms. Marly Roncken, he is addressing this issue through the research and development of low-power, highly efficient asynchronous circuits, and systems that will contribute not only to the development of computer graphics but to computer science in general.

Dr. Sutherland joins Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Arts & Philosophy) and Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi (Basic Sciences) as this year’s honorees of the prestigious Kyoto Prize, Japan’s highest private award for global achievement. Each laureate will receive a diploma, a 20-karat gold Kyoto Prize medal and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately US$630,000) in recognition of lifelong contributions to society at a ceremony in Kyoto, Japan on November 10, 2012.