Ronald Baecker

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Ronald Baecker
BornOctober 7, 1942
Alma materMIT
AwardsNamed one of the "60 Pioneers of Computer Graphics"
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science; Electrical Engineering
InstitutionsUniversity of Toronto

Ronald Baecker (born October 7, 1942) is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science and Bell Chair in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Toronto (U of T). He was the co-founder of the Dynamic Graphics Project, and is the founder of the Knowledge Media Design Institute (KMDI) and the Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab (TAGlab). He is the author of Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, published by Oxford University Press in 2019.

Summary of research interests[edit]

Dr. Baecker is an expert in human-computer interaction (HCI), user interface (UI) design, software visualization, multimedia, computer-supported cooperative work and learning, and entrepreneurship in the software industry.[1]

From 1966 through 1969, Dr. Baecker developed the first comprehensive conceptual framework for computer animation on Genesys, a foundational computer animation system that he himself designed and built at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. This work helped launch the field of computer animation. He also developed Smalltalk, a novel computer animation system for children, at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1974 and worked on interactive computer graphics and guided the realization and testing of the animated icon from 1988 through 1990.[2]

Continuing on his work on software visualization, between 1973 and 1981, he produced the film Sorting Out Sorting – a seminal piece elucidating the potential of computer animation and behavior that propelled the field of algorithm animation. In addition to the film, Dr. Baecker and his colleagues presented a systematic and comprehensive new approach to enhancing the presentation of computer program source using graphic design principles (1982–88), formulated conceptual frameworks for software visualization (1981–92), and constructed powerful yet unobtrusive systems for the visualization of programs in particular programming languages, and then applied it to the LOGO system(1988–94).[3]

From the 1990s through the 2010s, he created two innovative collaborative multimedia technologies. His team was the first group to employ hierarchically structured multimedia for the interactive authoring of digital video and other dynamic visual presentations, and the first to apply such a system to the creation of materials for software support and training. Additionally, his team worked on the use of highly interactive webcasting with structured rich media archives as the ePresence Interactive Media environment for collaborative learning.[4]

Furthermore, Dr. Baecker founded TAGlab to research the design of technologies for aging gracefully and was a founding researcher in AGE-WELL, Canada's Technology and Aging research network.[5] This research is primarily focused on increasing computer literacy among seniors and using technology to help individuals work better and be safer. His current research has been centered on envisioning, designing, building, and evaluating technological aids intended for individuals with Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment, amnesia, vision loss, and stroke, and the natural consequences of aging.

Systems built include the development of online social gaming environments for seniors, online brain fitness environments, mobile phone software to help individuals with communication challenges to speak, e-book software to help people with visual or motor impairments to read, digital communicating picture frame technology to help connect individuals who are isolated and lonely to family and friends, and a thanatosensitive design of web portals to support individuals who are grieving.[6]

Early life[edit]

Dr. Baecker was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin on October 7, 1942. When he was four, his family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His scientific career got off to an early start, when, in April 1958, he was awarded third prize in the American Chemical Society Chemistry test (Pittsburgh Section). He went on to win several other science honors while at Taylor Allderdice High School, including attending the Westinghouse Science Honors Institute (October 1958 to April 1959), and the Sun-Telegraph, Pittsburgh and Allegheny Count High Schools Scholastic Award in Science (1959).

In 1960, he began work as a summer research assistant at Koppers Company Research Labs. He was awarded a B.S. degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1963 and received an M.S. degree in the then burgeoning field of Electrical Engineering, again from MIT in 1964. At the end of 1964, he traveled to the University of Heidelberg in Germany to further his studies in applied mathematics where he stayed until July 1965. He returned to his alma mater to study Computer Science at MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and received his Ph.D. in June 1969.[7]

Professional career[edit]

Entrepreneurial and Management Experience[edit]

Dr. Baecker has started five software companies, three of which he led as founding CEO. His first start-up, Human Computing Resources, later renamed to HCR Corporation, was founded in 1976 with an investment of $11,000 and eventually became a multi-million dollar world-class UNIX systems software firm. In 1990, it was sold the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) and continued as SCO Canada until early 1996.

His second venture, Expresto Software Corporation attempted to commercialize video authoring and publishing technology; in 2002, it was sold to a shareholder. Following the dissolution of Expresto, Dr. Baecker originated the concept and led the development for a successful proposal for an NSERC Research Network Grant entitled the Network for Effective Collaboration Through Advanced Research (NECTAR).

Between 1995 and 1998, Dr. Baecker founded the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. This was the first institute at U of T to address interdisciplinary issues within the production, creation, and distribution of knowledge media.[8] In 2002, KMDI sponsored the development of a knowledge media design collaborative graduate degree program. He continues to serve as the Institute's Chief Scientist to provide intellectual leadership.

Between 2008 through 2011, he spun out Captual Technologies Inc. to develop and market ePresence, the first official open source software release from the University of Toronto, worldwide. In 2011, the company was sold to Canadian courseware management solutions firm Desire2Learn.

Following his project to develop context-aware mobile communications apps to aid speaking by adults with communication disorders such as caused by strokes, or children with learning and communication challenges such as autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Baecker assisted the start-up of MyVoice Inc. to commercialize an extraordinary context-aware mobile speech aid app. The company was doing well, until it was abandoned by its CEO in 2016.

Since 2010, Dr. Baecker has been transforming his work on aids for socially isolated and lonely seniors to keep them connected to family and friends into Communications, which is currently commercializing a novel tablet-based communications tool for older adults.

Teaching Experience[edit]

Dr. Baecker is an active lecturer, and consultant on human-computer interaction and user interface design, user support, software visualization, multimedia, computer-supported cooperative work and learning, the Internet, entrepreneurship and strategic planning in the software industry, and the role of information technology in business.

Since 1972, Dr. Baecker has developed original courses in interactive computer graphics, human-computer interaction, user interface and computational media and knowledge media design, computer-supported cooperative work, computer literacy, and software entrepreneurship. In 1973, he co-founded the Dynamic Graphics Project at the University of Toronto, creating the first Canadian university group studying HCI and computer graphics. In addition, in 1990, he developed the first undergraduate human-computer interaction specialization within computer science at U of T.

Additionally, in 2004, he founded the TAGlab to support research and development of technologies to aid cognition, communication, and social interaction among seniors. Collaborators include individuals from Baycrest, Columbia Medical School, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

Publications and Patents[edit]

Dr. Baecker has published over 200 papers and articles on HCI, UI design, software visualization, computer-supported cooperative work, and related topics. He has published two videos and authored or co-authored five books. His past publications are:

  • “Readings in Human Computer Interaction: Towards the Year 2000” (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1995)
  • “Readings in Groupware and Computer Supported Cooperative Work: Software to Facilitate Human-Human Collaboration” (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1993)
  • “Human Factors and Typography for More Readable Programs” (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1990)
  • “Readings in Human Computer Interaction: A Multidisciplinary Approach” (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 1978)

His fifth book, “Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives” (Oxford University Press, 2019), examines current and systemic issues among computers and society. Work on this book has launched him on another research project, which is a systematic examination of the attributes AI systems need to have in order to be trusted with the critical, often life-and-death decisions that are now being proposed for machine learning algorithms, which include uses in recruiting, medical diagnosis, child welfare, criminal justice, senior's care, driving, and warfare.

In addition, Dr. Baecker is the co-owner of two patents, one for “Content-Based Depiction of Computer Icons” (1995) and another for “Method for Generating and Displaying Content-Based Depictions of Computer-Generated Objects” (1996).

Honors and awards[edit]

  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Association of Computer Science/Association d’informatique Canadienne, the national organization of Canadian Computer Science Departments/Schools/Faculties, May 2015.[9]
  • Given the 3rd Canadian Digital Media Pioneer Award, GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence, May 2013.[10]
  • Elected as an ACM Fellow, November 2011.[11]
  • Together with Alex Levy, Aakash Sahney, and Kevin Tonon, second place recipient of the 2011 University of Toronto Inventor of the Year Award in the Information and Computer Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities category, January 2011.[12]
  • Awarded the 2007 Leadership Award of Merit from the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) in June 2007.[13]
  • Awarded the Canadian Human Computer Communications Society Achievement Award in May 2005.[14]
  • Elected to the ACM SIGCHI CHI Academy in February 2005.[15]
  • Named as one of 60 Pioneers in Computer Graphics by ACM SIGGRAPH, and honoured with a photographic collection exhibited at SIGGRAPH’98 and later at the Boston Computer Museum, July 1998.

Training of highly qualified persons[edit]

Dr. Baecker's students are or have been professors at:

Others are or have been researchers or professional staff at The National Research Council (Canada), Microsoft and Microsoft Research, Google, IBM, Oracle Corporation, Sun Microsystems, The University of Toronto, McMaster University, Xerox, Nynex, Intel, Nortel, SRI International, Pixar/Disney, Alias Research, ATI, Electronic Arts, Matrox, McGraw-Hill, T-Mobile, Amazon, Intuit, McKinsey Corporation, Mark Logic, Silk Road Technology, Caseware international, Artez Interactive, Altamont Computers, Nectarine Group, Sapient, and ISS (Singapore). Others have started or been instrumental in the growth of companies such as SideFX, Data Mirror, Inea, Viigo, and TokBox.[17]


  1. ^ Ron Baecker. 18 November 2015. "Ph.D., Computer Science, Department of Electrical Engineering, M.I.T 1969". University of Toronto, Toronto.
  2. ^ Ron Baecker. September 2018. "Curriculum Vitae".
  3. ^ Ron Baecker. September 2018. "Curriculum Vitae".
  4. ^ Ron Baecker. September 2018. "Curriculum Vitae".
  5. ^ "AGE-WELL: Ronald Baecker |". Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  6. ^ Ron Baecker. September 2018. "Curriculum Vitae".
  7. ^ Ron Baecker. 18 Nov. 2015. "Ph.D., Computer Science, Department of Electrical Engineering, M.I.T 1969". University of Toronto, Toronto.
  8. ^ "Knowledge Media Design Institute". Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  9. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Award: Ronald M. Baecker | CACS/AIC - Canadian Association of Computer Science". Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  10. ^ "Ron Baecker | GRAND NCE". Archived from the original on 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  11. ^ "News". Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  12. ^ "Research and Innovation » U of T Inventors of the Year". Archived from the original on 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  13. ^ "2007 ORION Awards - Celebrating Ontario's contribution to research, teaching and learning -- June 04,2007". Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  14. ^ "GI 2005 - Graphics Interface". Graphics Interface. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  15. ^ "2005 SIGCHI Awards —". Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  16. ^ Ron Baecker. 18 Nov. 2015. "Ph.D., Computer Science, Department of Electrical Engineering, M.I.T 1969". University of Toronto, Toronto.
  17. ^ Ron Baecker. 18 Nov. 2015. "Ph.D., Computer Science, Department of Electrical Engineering, M.I.T 1969". University of Toronto, Toronto.