Kelly is widely regarded as the "father of computing in Canada" and, as stated in his 1996 Order of Canada investiture, "has been largely responsible for leading Canadians into the modern age of computing."
Kelly began his education in Physics and completed his MA in 1944 and his PhD in 1947 at the University of Toronto. With his foundation in physics firmly in place, Kelly turned his interests to a little-known technology; computers. His interest in computing began in the late 1940s when he and two other colleagues began exploring initial developments in the new field and installed early computer facilities with funding from the Atomic Energy Commission of Canada. This endeavor led to the 1952 purchase of the FERUT (Feranti, University of Toronto) computer at the University of Toronto, Canada's first electronic digital computer and the second such machine sold globally.
- part of the first team in Canada that assembled parts to design and construct digital computers and to provide computing services (1948)
- co-founded the original Computation Centre at the University of Toronto (1948)
- established the first university credit course on computing in Canada (1950)
- offered the first Canadian graduate courses in computing (1951)
- Initiated the world's first long distance use of an electronic computer using telegraph lines between the University of Saskatchewan and the FERUT computer at the University of Toronto (1955)
- founded the first graduate department of Computer Science in Canada, at the University of Toronto (1964)
Kelly has been a visionary in the field of computer science; predicting and contributing to the growth of computing on a variety of fronts, including:
- Developed "backwater calculations" (simulating the flooding that would take place) for various models of the St. Lawrence Seaway, including an all Canadian Seaway that convinced the US Congress to change its position and join Canada in the project (1948)
- Collaborated with interdisciplinary partners from the University of Toronto library, Kelly wrote a key paper on the digitization and indexing of a library catalogue. These paradigms where later adopted by the U.S. Government when they digitized the catalogue of the Library of Congress (early 1960’s)
- Designed "flutter calculations" that were essential in the wing design of the Avro Arrow aircraft
- Created simulations of computer controlled traffic lights that led to the adoption in Toronto of the first such system in the world
With great foresight, Kelly realized the enormous impact that computing would have on industry, academia and society at large and actively engaged in research and applied methods to promote the ethical use of technology.
- Kelly participated in a United Nations panel compiling a report on how computers could help developing countries (1969)
- Responsible for the report that led to the first Privacy Legislation developed in Canada based on his research on computerized databases and participation on the Privacy and Computers Task Force of the Canadian Federal Departments of Communications and Justice (1971)
- Along with his University of Toronto colleague, Allan Borodin, Kelly wrote the first textbook linking computing and sociology. "Social Implications of Computers" greatly influenced further study of the topic not only in Canada, but around the world (1973)
- Cited in the Oxford English Dictionary for defining ten new words, with colleague Pat Hume. For example, in 1958 Kelly and Pat were credited with the creation of the word "Loop," pertaining to computing
Ongoing Commitment to Computer Science
Kelly is now in his 90th year and still actively involved in the field of computer science. Kelly continues to contribute to the field in a variety of roles and activities:
- Professor Emeritus in Computer Science and in the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto
- Co-chair of the ACM’s Awards Committee for the past 20 years (The ACM has 97,000 members and is now the largest scientific organization in the world, responsible for twenty major information technology awards, including the Turing Award [the computing equivalent of the Nobel Prize])
- Mileage for 2010 travel for Computer Science related business totals 15,322 km
Awards and Accolades
- Order of Canada Award (1996)
- Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery
- Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), Founding member and former President
- Three Honorary Doctorates: Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Toronto (1996), Honorary Doctor of Math, University of Waterloo and Honorary Doctor of English degree, Technical University of Nova Scotia (1994)
- Awarded the Isaac L. Auerbach Medal by the International Federation of Information Processing Societies (1994)
Kelly was born on March 27, 1921 in Toronto. In addition to his many accomplishments in the field of computer science, Kelly has led a rich family life. Kelly was married for over 60 years to Phyllis, renowned poet and science fiction author. Phyllis wrote 18 science fiction and poetry books over her career and the premier award in science fiction was named after her first book "Sunburst." In 2006 the couple was featured in a Toronto Star Valentine's Day article describing their long and happy union and Phyllis's Valentine's Day ritual that entailed her writing a love poem for her husband each year.
Kelly and Phyllis have three children. Kelly is now a grandfather as well and enjoys spending time with his grandchildren.
- "Huge Push-Button Brain to be Built at UofT." The Globe and Mail (May 1949)
- "The Microchip at 25: More Power to it." The Globe and Mail (November 1996)
- "60 Years, for Better or for Verse." The Toronto Star (February 2008)
- CIPS Interview Series by Stephen Ibaraki (click the links to hear Kelly's interviews):
- Kelly shares his insights on the privacy issue
- Kelly talks about his remarkable family
- Kelly talks about his work as Co-Chair of the ACM Awards Committee
- Kelly shares his views and insights on the evolution of computers over the past fifty plus years
- Kelly talks about his classified work
- Kelly talks about his work with IFIP and CIPS