Let’s Celebrate The Heroes Behind Remote Access Technology

So many things happened during the pandemic. Home delivery of food, increased streaming into our homes, regulations, in some places, on where we could go and when, forced separation from friends and family. It was a strange time.

The one thing that seems to be permanent though is the idea of remote access technology to work remotely. We all became very accustomed to seeing people on screens and even having happy hour celebrations over the internet. Some people abused the privilege as they always do. There were people in multiple, simultaneous Zoom meetings. They were people working two full-time jobs. And, of course, there were some number of us working a lot less than 40 hours. Like everything, other technology can be used productively to enhance our lives or it can be abused to meet selfish ends.

Whether you worked at home or not, whether you agree with the policy or not, the ability to do all these things from Doordash to streaming the Barbie movie to your next Zoom meeting all depends on several remote access technologies. I am here today to award the creators of these important pandemic technologies.

The envelope please!

The first Pandemic Technology Award goes to Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) for the development of Ethernet in the 1970s. Nothing we have today would work without the efforts of the good people at PARC. I am one of the millions who have a career based on Ethernet (EtherNet/IP and PROFINET versions) thanks to these people. The basic philosophy they put in place was that any station could send a message at any time, and the recipient had to acknowledge successful receipt of the message. Ethernet had several things going for it over other competing technologies. First, as Urs Von Burg describes in his book, The Triumph of Ethernet, DEC decided to support Ethernet. DEC was a leading technology company of the time and very active in the IEEE standards process. With DEC’s support, its position as a truly open standard and with more and more developers working on it, Ethernet became the LAN of choice for both the business and home market. Nothing was ever the same again.

The next Pandemic Technology Award goes to Alan Turing and the Heroes of Bletchley Park. During World War II, the Bletchley Park estate housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Alan Turing and the other codebreakers were able to penetrate the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers and are credited by British Intelligence with shortening the war by two to four years.

The Bletchley Park team invented automatic decryption machinery. They built the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer, Colossus, to assist with decryption math. Today’s encryption algorithms, something used on every website in the world and 99% of the world’s communication are direct descendants of the work done at Bletchley Park.

The third and final Pandemic Technology award goes to Claude Shannon. Al Gore thinks he invented the Internet, but it was Claude Shannon who made the idea of sending bits across a wire possible. Shannon is a hero at RTA. Shannon was the first to describe communications as a general information problem of moving bits from an information source to an information destination using a transmitter and receiver. The incredible beauty of his simple model was that it applied universally, as much to a wired mouse as it does to a strand of messenger DNA or interplanetary space communications – communication problems not conceived of in his day. One of Shannon’s greatest accomplishments was a method for encoding information such that noise could be automatically detected and overcome. Shannon realized that by encoding information properly you could automatically detect and overcome single-bit errors and detect multi-bit errors.

The pandemic was a strange time. We owe a debt of gratitude to these people and teams that made it survivable with remote access technology.