We are sad to report the death of Russell Kirsch, below, who is assured a place in computing and digital photographic history as the inventor of the pixel. Kirsch was born in Manhattan in 1929 to Jewish immigrant parents and soon stood out as an academic star – his alma mater included Harvard and MIT. Aged only 23, he joined the National Bureau of Standards as a member of the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) team – responsible for handling the world’s first programmable computer.
In 1957, Kirsch played a key role in helping to develop a 5cm by 5cm digital image scanner for the SEAC that eventually captured the first digital images. His son Walden, then three months old, was an early subject and was the first baby to be photographed digitally (the flood gates have since opened irrevocably). The image, shown below, was a mere 3,2041 pixels in size, but gave an exciting glimpse of the future. It is one of the most significant digital images of all time.
Kirsch maintained a strong interest in digital imaging and went on to try and do something about square pixels – a decision made in the 1950s that he lived to regret. ‘Square was the logical thing to do but of course, the logical thing was not the only possibility,” he told WIRED. “It was something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since.” Read the full obituary of this wise, hugely influential computing pioneer here.