SRI celebrates seven decades of genius

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- A glass case in the lobby of SRI International in Menlo Park is packed with the lab's innovations in technologies like technicolor, robotic surgery, and voice assistants like Siri. But for computer scientist Don Nielson, Ph.D., their most powerful legacy may have begun with a so-called bread truck and a sketch on a napkin.

"And that I think most people will say is probably the birth of internet working," Nielson said.

In a now famous experiment the SRI team was able to beam data from the mobile van, known as the bread truck, onto an early internet-like computer network.

"Through a gateway into the ARPA net clear overseas to London, back by way of a satellite link to a host," Nielson said.

Decades later, computer scientists at SRI are on the cutting edge of securing the modern internet they helped launch. Pat Lincoln, Ph.D., says a graphics monitor that looks like a high-end video game display is just one example. It's designed to let watchdogs track computer networks as they access sites around the globe, far more intuitively than watching lines of computer code float by.

"And finding ways to identify, there's something really suspicious here and worthy of a human to take a look at," Lincoln said.

Down the hall, advances in machine interface is helping engineers like Mark Baybutt create robots that can work with humans, or even by themselves, including one that rides a motorcycle.

Whether it's identifying languages with sophisticated software or securing consumer technologies, researchers say the advances being worked on now, all draw inspiration from the lessons of SRI 's storied past.

"So we do look at the arch of history. SRI is 70 years old. We've been through revolutions, we know there are going to be more revolutions, we project forward by looking back," Lincoln said.

SRI was founded in the 1940's as the Stanford research institute, but spun off as an independent center in the 1970's. It currently holds more than four thousand patents.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.
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