Wong, a computing pioneer, urges wise technology policy

By Teresa Riordan
July 25, 2007

New fund to support policy internships for students

The career of Eugene Wong ’55 *59 has taken him from Berkeley, Calif., where he profoundly influenced the field of computing, to Washington, D.C., where he helped craft policies that smoothed the growth of the Internet. To encourage others with technical expertise to engage in public service, he has established the Eugene Wong Fund for Engineering and Policy at Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“During my time in Washington, I saw how much of an impact wise technology policy could have on the nation’s wellbeing and on its future,” said Wong, whom President George H. W. Bush appointed in 1990 to be associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “I also saw how foolish policies could cause serious setbacks.”

Eugene Wong

Wong served in Washington, first at the White House and subsequently at the National Science Foundation, at a pivotal moment in the history of the Internet. He was instrumental in establishing a policy framework that allowed for the supple evolution of ARPAnet – the military computer network—into the pervasive commercial network that we know today as the Internet.

“Through government funding, coupled with light-handed market-oriented policies, we were able to create this tremendous, earthshaking technology that transformed the world in many ways,” Wong said.

Wong said that he would like the newly established fund to allow students to immerse themselves in a specific policy issue during semester- or summer-long internships in Washington, within the White House, Congress, regulatory agencies or organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences.

Wong said, however, that he did not want to specify too closely how the internship program should be implemented. “Times change,” he said. “It is enough for it to be catalytic and to encourage smart people to develop an active interest in public policy.”

Wong and Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocols that are the basis of the modern Internet, had the same thesis adviser during their graduate studies at Princeton, John Bowman Thomas. (Other notable Thomas advisees include H. Vincent Poor *77, Princeton’s dean of engineering, and Hisashi Kobayashi *67, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton who pioneered techniques that led to dramatic increases in the storage capacity of computer hard drives.)

Wong is the former chair of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California-Berkeley. He also was one of the designers of INGRES, a pioneering database management system and he cofounded a company of the same name.

When he was presented with the Class of ’55 Award earlier this year, Wong reflected on his undergraduate years.

“Not only did my education equip me with the skills that launched my professional career, but it also stimulated in me a life-long interest in a broad range of socio-humanistic topics,” said Wong. “My Princeton education taught me how to think, and with that came a confidence that has sustained me for a lifetime.”