Emeritus Professor of Computer Science
University of Toronto
Through his vision, inspiration, and leadership, Gotlieb played a fundamental role in bringing Canadians into the modern age of computing. His efforts led to the formation of Departments of Computer Science in universities across the country. Gotlieb also had the vision to recognize that computers would have profound impacts on society, and that policies needed to be created to ameliorate the worst of these impacts. More than six decades later, Gotlieb’s progressive ideas and revolutionary vision remain the foundation for today’s computer technology. Here are some of Prof. Gotlieb’s contributions.
In 1952, U of T acquired FERUT—the 2nd electronic digital computer ever sold anywhere. Applications and demonstrations on this and later U of T computers done by Prof. Gotlieb had major influences in Canada: (1) “Flutter calculations”, involving the inversion of a 40×40 matrix, were essential for the design of the Avro Arrow aircraft. (2) “Backwater calculations” for an all-Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway (simulating the flooding that would take place) proved that it was practical. These led the US Congress to change its position, and join Canada in the project. (3) A demonstration of a computerized airline reservation system (at which the President of Air Canada was present) led to the adoption in Canada of one of the first such systems. (4) Simulation of computer controlled traffic lights led to the adoption in Toronto of the first such system in the world. (5) The U of T library was a pioneer in digitizing its card catalogue, and the format it developed was later adopted by the US Library of Congress. (6) Simulation of machine reading of postal codes led to an early introduction of postal codes in Canada. (7) A well-attended course on Computers in Business, offered in the Extension Department for several years before there were academic credit courses, led to the widespread adoption of computers by the Canadian insurance industry.
Research on computerized databases led to Professor Gotlieb’s appointment to a Task Force on Privacy for the Federal Governments Departments of Justice and Industry. The report led to the first Privacy Legislation in Canada. When the UN General Assembly instructed Secretary U Thant to produce a Report on the Application of Computer Technology to Development, six experts, including Professor Gotlieb from Canada, were chosen to write it. The resulting report is the best seller that UN had published to date. The Oxford Institute for the Internet is one of the world’s best known organizations for studying the effects of computers on society. Its director, William Dutton, has indicated that reading the textbook “Social Implications of Computers” by Professors Gotlieb and Borodin, (the first book on the topic) led to his choice of careers. Professor Gotlieb was Canadian Representative when IFIPS, the International Federation of Information Societies, was founded. He was the first chairman of TC9—the Technical Committee on Computers and Society. He taught an undergraduate course on the subject for over 35 years.
When FERUT was installed in 1952, time on it was offered, without charge, to researchers at other Canadian universities. Several availed themselves of the opportunity, with the result that many of them became early adopters of computer technology. U of T offered the first credit courses in Canada on computers, and established the first graduate department in Computer Science in 1962. Gotlieb was instrumental in determining which parts of mathematics would be most useful for Computer Science and advised theses of the first Canadian CS graduate students.