SOFTWARE PIONEER PETER NAUR WINS ACM'S TURING AWARD
Dane's Creative Genius Revolutionized Computer Language Design
New York, March 01, 2006 -- The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has named Peter Naur the winner of the 2005 A.M. Turing Award. The award is for Naur's pioneering work on defining the Algol 60 programming language. Algol 60 is the model for many later programming languages, including those that are indispensable software engineering tools today. The Turing Award, considered the "Nobel Prize of Computing" was first awarded in 1966, and is named for British mathematician Alan M. Turing. It carries a $100,000 prize, with financial support provided by Intel Corporation.
Dr. Naur was editor in 1960 of the hugely influential "Report on the Algorithmic Language Algol 60." He is recognized for the report's elegance, uniformity and coherence, and credited as an important contributor to the language's power and simplicity. The report made pioneering use of what later became known as Backus-Naur Form (BNF) to define the syntax of programs. BNF is now the standard way to define a computer language. Naur is also cited for his contribution to compiler design and to the art and practice of computer programming.
"Dr. Naur's ALGOL 60 embodied the notion of elegant simplicity for algorithmic expression," said Justin Rattner, Intel senior fellow and Chief Technology Officer. "Over the years, programming languages have become bloated with features and functions that have made them more difficult to learn and less effective. This award should encourage future language designers who are addressing today's biggest programming challenges, such as general-purpose, multi-threaded computation, to achieve that same level of elegance and simplicity that was the hallmark of ALGOL 60."
Contributions Signal Birth of Computing Science
In 2002, former Turing Award winner Edsger Dijkstra characterized the development of Algol 60 as "an absolute miracle" that signaled the birth of what he called "computing science" because it showed the first ways in which automatic computing could and should become a topic of academic concern. The development of Algol 60 was the result of an exceptionally talented group of people, including several who were later named Turing Award winners.
Dr. Naur's contribution to Algol 60, was seminal. John Backus, another former Turing Award winner, acknowledged Naur as the driving intellectual force behind the definition of Algol 60. He commented that Naur's editing of the Algol report and his comprehensive preparation for the January 1960 meeting in which Algol was presented "was the stuff that really made Algol 60 the language that it is, and it wouldn't have even come about, had he not done that."
Before publication of the Algol 60 Report, computer languages were informally defined by their prose manuals and the compiler code itself. The report, with its use of BNF to define the syntax, and carefully chosen prose to define the semantics, was concise, powerful, and unambiguous.
The 17-page Algol 60 Report presented the complete definition of an elegant, transparent language designed for communication among humans as well as with computers. It was deliberately independent of the properties of any particular computer. The new language was a major challenge to compiler writers. Dr. Naur went on to co-author the GIER Algol Compiler (for the transistorized electronic computer developed in Denmark known as GIER), one of the first compilers to deal fully and correctly with the language's powerful procedure mechanism.
"Dr. Naur's contribution was a watershed in the computing field, and transformed the way we define programming languages," said James Gray of Microsoft Research, and Chair of the 2005 Turing Committee. "Many of the programming constructs we take for granted today were introduced in the Algol Report, which introduced a concise block-structured language that improved the way we express algorithms."
Dr. Naur was instrumental in establishing software engineering as a discipline. He made pioneering contributions to methodologies for writing correct programs through his work on assertions that enable programmers to state their assumptions, and on structured programming. "His work, though formal and precise, displays an exceptional understanding of the limits and uses of formalism and precision," said Gray. Through these activities, and his development of an influential computer science curriculum, Dr. Naur contributed fundamental components of today's computing knowledge and skills.
Early Experience in Practical Calculations and Applications
Dr. Naur began his scientific pursuits as an astronomer, where he was involved in computations of the orbits of comets and minor planets. He obtained a magister of science degree (the equivalent of a master's degree) from Copenhagen University in 1949. He later returned there to earn a doctorate in astronomy in 1957. During the 1950-51 academic year, Dr. Naur studied astronomy at King's College in Cambridge, U.K., and came to the U.S. to further his work in the field. This work involved using early computers (starting with EDSAC, the world's first practical stored program electronic computer) for his astronomical calculations. In 1953, he returned to Denmark and served as a scientific assistant at Copenhagen Observatory.
In 1959, he joined the staff of the compiler design group at Regnecentralen, the first Danish computer company. There he organized the Algol Bulletin and was editor of the 13-person international Algol 60 team's report that defined Algol 60. He became a professor at the Copenhagen University Institute of Datalogy in 1969, retiring in 1998.
Dr. Naur was awarded the G. A. Hagemann Gold Medal from the Danish Technical University in 1963, the Jens Rosenkjaer Prize from the Danish Radio in 1966, and the Computer Pioneer Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1986.
ACM will present the Turing Award at the annual ACM Awards Banquet on May 20, 2006, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, CA.