Computer pioneers meet up to celebrate honorary degree for Nigel Roberts

  • Date

    Tue 19 Jul 22

Nigel Roberts with Roy Trubshaw and Professor Richard Bartle

Three friends who helped launch one of the world’s first multi-user virtual online worlds while studying at the University of Essex in the late 1970s and early-1980s met-up together as influential computer scientist Nigel Roberts received an honorary degree.

Although Roy Trubshaw, Professor Richard Bartle and Nigel had met individually since leaving the University of Essex this was the first-time all three Essex graduates had been together in 40 years.

Nigel received his honorary degree from the University of Essex for his impact on the development of the Internet. He has been involved in the work of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for three decades, serving as a Director on its Board between October 2018 and October 2021. ICANN is the not-for-profit public-benefit corporation working across the world to keep the Internet secure, stable and interoperable.

Four decades ago he was completing a degree in computer science at Essex and as Chair of the Computer Society he got involved in the development of the Multi-User Dungeon, known as MUD, which was being developed by friends Roy and Richard (now a Professor in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineeering).

This was one of the first multi-user virtual worlds and connected users from around the world – which was incredibly exciting and novel back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nigel provided advice about how MUD could be extended and improved to its creators Roy and Richard.

MUD would pave the way for today’s huge $30bn-a-year role-playing computer gaming industry and is still referenced as a major moment in the history of computer gaming.

Nigel said: “It feels absolutely amazing to receive this honorary degree. It’s such an honour, 40 years ago I never thought I would be here today.

“Its special because I spent three very happy years at Essex. It changed my life and changed my attitude to life.”

At his Graduation ceremony, which he shared with graduates from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, Nigel paid tribute to the academics who supported him during his studies: “I just want to put on record my gratitude to the faculty of my time here at the University of Essex, including Iain MacCallum, Dave Lyons, the late Professor Tony Brooker and Mike (Sir Michael as he now is) Brady. Each of whom inspired me, each in their own special way.”

He also thanked the University’s technical staff for making it possible for his 88-year-old mum to watch the ceremony on a livestream at her home in the Channel Islands – another example of the power of the Internet.

Nigel was not only joined by Roy and Richard for the special degree ceremony, but ICANN representatives travelled from the United States and the Netherlands.