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IT’S February, the Black History Month, an event for remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora and before the month ends I thought I should write on one black inventor that most of people might not be aware of.

When you think of advancements in computer technology, you probably think of names like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, but there are many inventors out there.

Today, I picked on Mark E. Dean, A black inventor, one of the inventors of the IBM personal computer born on March 2, 1957, in Jefferson City.

As a child, he loved building things and did well at school. Mark Dean excelled in maths. In elementary school, he took advanced level maths courses and, in high school, Dean even built his own computer, radio, and amplifier.

As a boy, he and his father built a tractor from scratch.  One white friend in sixth grade asked if he was really black. Dean said his friend had concluded he was too smart to be black.

“That was the problem, the assumption about what blacks could do was tilted,” Dean said.

Mark Dean was both a star athlete and a straight-A student. In 1979 he graduated at the top of his class at the University of Tennessee though he was actually a part of the university’s Minority Engineering Programme.

After college, Dean worked for IBM as a computer scientist. He was one of the original inventors of the IBM personal computer and the colour PC monitor.

He is also responsible for creating the technology that allows devices, such as keyboards, mice, and printers, to be plugged into a computer and communicate with each other.

Dean led the team that built a gigaherz (1000mhz) chip which did a billion calculations per second. In 2001 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineers (NAE).

“A lot of kids growing up today aren’t told that you can be whatever you want to be,” he said. “There may be obstacles, but there are no limits.”

Dean holds three of the original nine patents on the computer that all PCs are based upon:  he worked for a number of years before considering the doctorate.

He earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1992. Dean is the first African-American to become an IBM Fellow, one of only 50 active fellows of IBM’s 300, 000 employees. which is the highest level of technical excellence at the company.

In 1997, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame which has under 150 members. For inventing “a system that has allowed PCs to become part of our lives.”

He was also the Vice President of Performance for the RS/6000 Division and, along with his colleague Dennis Moeller. In 2004, Dr. Dean was selected as one of the 50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science.

He is one of the people who worked on the “electronic tablet.”  Frustrated by the bulkiness of newspapers, Dean came up with the idea for a rugged, magazine-sized device that could download any electronic text, from newspapers to books.

The device would also be a DVD player, radio, wireless telephone and provide access to the Internet. It would recognise handwriting (written directly on the screen), be voice-activated and even talk back.

But while it could accomplish all of those things, Dean thinks the tablet could be produced cheaply enough so that every student could get one, and publications could give one to every person who buys a subscription.

As far out as the tablet may seem, Dean said it could be available soon. “We are almost there. The only technology left to conquer is the display, we have the other pieces,” Dean said. “We will see it pretty soon – easily within 10 years.” With technology, “if you can talk about it, that means it’s possible,” he said.

Dean spent over 30 years at IBM working to make computers more accessible and powerful. His work has made a lasting impact on the way we use computers today.

At the moment, he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee. He was previously CTO for IBM Middle East and Africa and was an IBM Vice President overseeing the company’s Almaden Research Centre in San Jose, California. prior to that position Dean now holds more than 20 patents.

*For comments and contributions or if you have a question or topic you would like us to cover in this column, email me on Text or Whatsapp +260977258265.

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