Passcode Please …

July 25, 2019
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL photographer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
If you’ve ever had to type in a passcode to access your computer or punch one in on your phone, you can thank computer scientist Dr. Fernando Corbató for that added layer of security so no one but you (or those who know your passcode!) can access things that are on your devices. But what’s even more fascinating about Dr. Corbató’s work is that he invented passcodes as a way for more people to use the computer, not less. How’s that you wonder? In the 1950s and 1960s, computers were fast, but could only process one job at a time which meant that the computer’s power wasn’t being optimized, or used to its full potential. Well, in comes Dr. Corbató. He invented an operating system called the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) in which the power of a computer gets divided up, allowing for many more smaller jobs to be completed at the same time, and therefore more people to use it. The passcode came along as a way for each user to hide and file away their work while others were using the same machine. Needless to say, Dr. Corbató contributed a lot to the world of computing. In 1990, he received the AM Turing award, one of the highest honors in the world of computer science. Earlier this month, Dr. Corbató passed away. He was ninety-three years old. Thank you for dedicating your life to making the computer better for everyone, Dr. Corbató.