The past year saw the loss of celebrated tech pioneers such as Sir Clive Sinclair, Masayuki Uemura and Charles Geschke. Although no longer with us, their work will be remembered and cherished for generations to come because of the everlasting imprint they left on millions of lives. As we near the end of 2021, we remember the tech luminaries we lost in the past year.
Sir Clive Sinclair
Sir Clive Sinclair, British inventor of the ZX Spectrum personal computer, passed away in September at the age of 81. He died in his London home following a long illness. Sinclair will be best remembered for creating the ZX Spectrum, one of the first home computers aimed at mainstream consumers.
In fact, the ZX Spectrum was the device that started the love for creating video games and coding for many people. The ZX’s true successor is the Raspberry Pi, the sub-$50 computer designed to make PCs more affordable and help kids learn coding.
Sinclair was knighted in 1983. He also invented the first slimline pocket calculator as well as the Sinclair C5, a battery-powered single-seater vehicle, introduced in 1985. However, the C5 flopped due to concerns related to safety and performance. The following year, Sinclair sold his computer business to Amstrad.
Masayuki Uemura, who died in December at the age of 78, also played a big role in making video game consoles mainstream. Uemura was a gaming engineer and the lead architect on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). “It all started with a phone call in 1981.
[Nintendo] President Yamauchi told me to make a video game system, one that could play games on cartridges,” Uemura had once told Kotaku. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), as it was known, made its debut in the US in 1985, and became the most successful game console at that time with 60 million units sold.
Born in Tokyo in 1943, Uemura studied electronic engineering at the Chiba Institute of Technology and joined Nintendo in 1971. After Uemura retired from Nintendo, he taught game studies in 2004 at Ritsumeikan University.
Charles Geschkle, Adobe co-founder and co-inventor of Portable document finder (PDF), died in April this year. He was 81. Geschke and John Warnock established Adobe, which is now one of the world’s largest software companies, with a current market value of about $300 billion.
Charles Matthew Geschke, known as Chuck, was born in September 1939, and grew up in Cleveland. Geschke earned a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and then took a job at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center where he met Warnock.
The duo left Xerox in 1982 and founded Adobe. Their first product was Adobe PostScript, the programming language that boosted the desktop publishing industry. Geschkle made headlines in 1992 when he was rescued after being abducted by two kidnappers.
Lou Ottens, the Dutch engineer behind inventing the cassette tape, died aged 94 at his home in the village of Duizel in North Brabant. He was a longtime engineer at the Dutch electronics and technology company Philips, where Ottens looked after the product development department.
Under his supervision, Philips unveiled the EL 3585, the company’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units. But the biggest breakthrough of Otten’s career was the debut of an audio cassette at electronics fairs in Berlin in August 1963.
From the very beginning, Otten envisioned the cassette tape that should fit inside the pocket of his jacket. Soon Japanese companies started coming up with their versions of audio cassette tape but Otten orchestrated a deal between Sony and Philips to make their model become the standard on the market.
But Otten didn’t stop there. In the early 70s, he was involved in the development of compact disk technology, better known as CD. Both audio cassette tapes and compact disks became the de facto standard for listening to music for decades.
Otten was one the most decorated inventors of his time, and perhaps the best in his generation. Born in 1926, Otten showed his interest in engineering from an early age. After obtaining a degree in engineering, he landed a job at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952
John McAfee, the man behind one of the most used virus protection programmes, ended his life in a Barcelona prison after the Spanish high court authorised his extradition to the United States on tax evasion charges. He was 75 years old. McAfee was a controversial figure with long run-ins with the law.
He was born in England in 1945 and raised in Salem, Virginia, by an American father and a British mother. He rose to fame when he launched the world’s first commercial anti-virus in 1987, a company Intel bought in 2011 for $7.68 billion, when McAfee was no longer involved.
McAfee allegedly failed to file taxes for four years despite earning millions in income between 2014 and 2018 from promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary. In 2012, he was questioned in connection with the death of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death on the island in Belize where both men were neighbours.
McAfee was living with a 17-year-old girl and the police discovered a large number of weapons in his home. Although McAfee tasted success initially in his career, he was not able to replace the same success which he had with his anti-virus firm with his other ventures.