The inaugural head of the University of Toronto’s Department of Computer Science passed away on October 16. Aged 95 and widely known as ‘the father of computing in Canada’, Professor Emeritus Calvin Carl ‘Kelly’ Gotlieb was renowned not only for his technical achievements but also for his study of the social effects of computers.
Gotlieb and his team contributed to the development of the Avro Arrow, the crown jewel of the Canadian aerospace industry in the 1950s. Leveraging U of T’s computing power, the team performed ‘flutter calculations’ to determine how the aircraft’s structure would react under different conditions. The cutting-edge design of the aircraft relied on Gotlieb’s computing expertise.
Gotlieb also applied U of T’s computing resources to the St. Lawrence Seaway, a proposed shipping route to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Designed as a joint scheme between Canada and the United States, the US government initially declined to participate. Gotlieb created a computer model of the waterflow through an alternative, all-Canadian version of the Seaway, demonstrating its viability and prodding the US to join the project.
In addition to these contributions to Canadian engineering projects, Gotlieb also drove the adoption of computerized systems in airline reservations, traffic lights, and library catalogues. His simulations demonstrated their feasibility and led directly to widespread adoption.
Gotlieb was not only a talented computer scientist but also a visionary scholar studying the social impacts of computing. He was a key author of the United Nations’ Report on the Application of Computer Technology to Development, as well as a seminal text in the field, Social Issues in Computing. Professor Gotlieb also taught a U of T undergraduate course on these issues for more than 35 years, allowing students to learn from a world-renowned expert.
Both the University of Toronto and the broader computer science community will mourn the loss of a giant in both computing and its social impact.