The Man Who Connected the World: How Bob Metcalfe Won Computing's Top Prize

Cover Image for The Man Who Connected the World: How Bob Metcalfe Won Computing's Top Prize
Laura Smith
Laura Smith

What is Ethernet?

Ethernet is a simple but brilliant idea: a way of sending data over a network of wires using a common protocol. Metcalfe came up with the concept in 1973, when he was working at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a legendary hub of innovation that also gave birth to the personal computer and the laser printer.

Metcalfe's inspiration came from a practical problem: how to connect a printer to a computer. He sketched out a design for a network that could link multiple devices using coaxial cables and a method called carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD). This allowed the devices to share the network without interfering with each other.

How did Ethernet become popular?

Metcalfe's idea was not immediately embraced by Xerox, which saw Ethernet as an internal project rather than a commercial product. But Metcalfe persisted and convinced Xerox to collaborate with Intel and Digital Equipment Corporation to standardize Ethernet and make it widely available. In 1979, he left Xerox and co-founded 3Com, one of the first companies to sell Ethernet products.

Ethernet soon became the dominant technology for local area networks (LANs), connecting computers within buildings or campuses. It also paved the way for the internet, which uses Ethernet as its backbone. Today, Ethernet is ubiquitous, connecting billions of devices around the world, from servers and routers to laptops and smartphones.

What is the Turing Award?

Metcalfe, who is now 76 years old, has been recognized for his invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which awards the Turing Award every year. The award comes with a $1 million prize, sponsored by Google.

The Turing Award is named after Alan Turing, a British mathematician and computer scientist who is widely regarded as the father of modern computing. The award honors individuals who have made lasting and major contributions to the field of computing. Previous winners include Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web; Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, the creators of TCP/IP protocol; and John von Neumann, one of the pioneers of computer architecture.

What is Metcalfe doing now?

Metcalfe is not resting on his laurels, though. He is still active in the field of computing, especially in artificial intelligence (AI). He is a research fellow and advisor at SparkCognition, an AI company that focuses on industrial applications. He is also an advocate for more research on connecting computers, especially in artificial neural networks, which mimic the human brain.

Metcalfe believes that there is still much room for improvement in connecting neural networks, which could lead to more powerful and scalable AI systems. He said that previous generations of AI "died on the vine because of a lack of data." That is no longer a problem thanks to the internet, but the challenge now is to better connect the computers that process that data.

Metcalfe's vision for the future of computing is as bold as his invention of Ethernet. He said that he hopes to see "a trillion-node network of neural networks" that could solve some of humanity's biggest problems. He also said that he is optimistic about the future of AI, which he thinks will continue scaling.


  • Computing networking pioneer Metcalfe wins top industry prize. Reuters.
  • 50 Years Later, Creator of Ethernet Wins Computing's Top Prize. CNET.
  • SparkCognition Research Fellow and Advisor Bob Metcalfe, Co-Inventor of Ethernet Technology, Wins Turing Award. MarketWatch.