In Memoriam: Stephen H. Unger

Columbia Electrical Engineering mourns the passing of Stephen H. Unger, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. He passed away on July 4, 2023. Unger was 92 years old.

July 05, 2023

A pioneer in the fields of logic circuit design, software engineering, and technology policy, Unger worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he developed software tools for the first electronic telephone switching system.

In 1961 he left Bell Labs to teach courses on technology and society at the electrical engineering department at Columbia Engineering until his retirement in 2008. He was one of three tenured professors who joined the newly formed computer science department in 1979, along with Theodore Bashkow from electrical engineering and Jonathan Gross from the Mathematical Statistics Department.

A prolific researcher and writer, he authored two books and numerous papers on various aspects of computer science and engineering ethics, such as logic circuit design, software engineering, and technology policy. One of his books, The Essence of Logic Circuits, covers the fundamentals and applications of logic circuits.

Unger was a Fellow of the IEEE and the AAAS and received several awards for his contributions to the profession and society. In 1969, he helped found and later became president of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, which deals with the ethical and social issues related to technology. He also played a principal role in the development of the original IEEE Ethics Code and its 1990 revision, which provides guidelines for engineers to act responsibly and ethically in their profession.

Throughout his career, he was a respected and influential figure in the field of computer science and engineering ethics. He received many awards and honors for his work, such as the IEEE Centennial Medal, the IEEE USAB Distinguished Contributions to Engineering Professionalism Award, the IEEE Millennium Medal, and the Guggenheim Fellowship. 

Unger earned a master’s degree and PhD in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his electrical engineering degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now the New York University Tandon School of Engineering), and graduated from the Brooklyn Technical High School.

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