Willis Ware dies at 93; pioneer predicted the rise of the computer
Computer pioneer Willis Ware saw the future, and it worried him.
In 1966, Ware, who worked as an engineer at Rand Corp., foresaw not only the omnipresence of personal computers, but also social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
“The computer will touch men everywhere and in every way, almost on a minute-to-minute basis,” he wrote in a paper presented at Rand 47 years ago. “Every man will communicate through a computer whatever he does. It will change and reshape his life, modify his career and force him to accept a life of continuous change.”
Six years later, with personal data increasingly being added to company and government computer systems, he had another, darker prediction. “The central issue is that for various reasons there is more and more information about people floating around in data banks,” he said in a 1972 Los Angeles Times interview. “The computer is beginning to make it possible to find out more about you in fewer places.”
“I suspect that what we’ll all give up is control over how essentially private information about ourselves is used. We’ll gradually get used to that.”
Ware, 93, who lived to see his predictions come true, died Nov. 22 at his home in Santa Monica. He had recently been in failing health, said his daughter, Alison Ware.
Willis Ware was on staff at Rand for more than 50 years.
“Willis helped usher Rand into the computer era at a time when computers existed mostly in the realm of science fiction,” Rand Chief Executive Michael Rich said in a statement. “He was ahead of his time in thinking about the profound effects that computers could have on information privacy.”
Although Rand, based in Santa Monica, is primarily known as a think tank, Ware did a lot more than just ponder the privacy issue. He wrote and spoke about the matter in numerous venues, including high-level government panels.
He was chairman of a committee created in 1972 by the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare to come up with policy suggestions. The committee’s report — “Records, Computers and the Right of Citizens” — written by Ware, made several suggestions, including:
“There must be no personal data record-keeping systems whose very existence is secret.”
“There must be a way for an individual to find out what information about him is in the record and how it is used.”
“Any organization creating, maintaining, using or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data for their intended use.”
That committee led to more committees. In 1975, Ware was named by President Gerald Ford to a Privacy Protection Study Commission.
In the meantime, many of the policies that he and others urged be adopted were not implemented. Did this make Ware bitter or take on an I-told-you-so attitude in his later years when hackers, corporate mining of personal information and the National Security Agency made headlines?
“Not at all,” Alison Ware said. “I never heard him be despondent about how things worked out. He was problem-oriented — he looked at a problem and took on the challenge of examining it.”
Willis Howard Ware was born Aug. 31, 1920, in Atlantic City, N.J. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and earned a doctorate in the field from Princeton University. During World War II he worked at Hazeltine Corp. in upstate New York, designing classified radar detection tools, according to Rand.
“Johnniac demonstrated a lot of firsts,” Ware said in an interview for an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers history project. “A machine that could run hundreds of hours without an error.”
But Ware will likely be best remembered for his forward thinking about how computers would affect our lives. “He was able to foresee things we couldn’t even begin to imagine back then,” said computer scientist Bob Anderson, who worked with Ware at Rand. “He was truly a pioneer in the field.”
In addition to Alison Ware, he is survived by another daughter, Deborah Pinson; a son, David; two granddaughters, a great-grandson and three brothers.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for the L.A. Times biggest news, features and recommendations in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.