The early work done in computing at M.I.T., in which Dr. Corbató played a central role, helped confer legitimacy on computer science as a field of inquiry. “It was really the beginning of the computer science community,” he said.
In the WGBH interview, Dr. Corbató showed that he could type commands on the modified typewriter and that the computer would respond instantaneously. The typewriter’s ball head began spinning, and words appeared on the paper as if the machine were possessed.
“The really frightening part is that we’ve made the computer extremely easy to use,” he presciently told Mr. Fitch. “So it will be used more and more.”
Fernando José Corbató was born on July 1, 1926, in Oakland, Calif., to Hermenegildo and Charlotte (Carella Jensen) Corbató. His father, a native of Villarreal, Spain, was a professor of Spanish literature. When he joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1930, the family moved south.
Dr. Corbató, familiarly known as Corby, entered U.C.L.A. in 1943. Seven months into his first year, with World War II having begun, he was recruited by the Navy to train as an electronics technician.
The Navy needed people to service, maintain and “debug an incredible array of equipment being foisted on the ships,” he told an interviewer for the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., in 2006.
The experience, he said, gave him his lifelong interest in tracking down errors and debugging systems.