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A Classical Mind Microsoft Researcher Receives Kyoto Prize – Stories

A Classical Mind Microsoft Researcher Receives Kyoto Prize – Stories

MSRCambridgeresearcherTonyHoareandhiswifeJillstandoutsideBuckinghamPalace,holdingthemedalhereceivedwhenhewasknightedbyQueenElizabethII。

ThememoryhasstuckwithHoare,amemberoftheMicrosoftResearch(MSR)Cambridgelab,throughouthislongcareerasacomputerscientist。

Whileitmaynothaunthimeveryday,itremindshimtolookforwaystomakecomputerlanguagesandprogramminglesscomplicatedtoachievetheprecision,or

Overthepastfourdecades,Hoarespassionforprecisionandinsightsintohowitmaybeachievedhaveservedasbeaconsfortherestoftheresearchcommunity,leadingtoadvancesinthedesignofmoderncomputerlanguages,increasedsoftwarereliabilityandsimplifiedcomputingwithmultiplecomputers。

Hoare,66,willberecognizedforhis

pioneeringandfundamentalcontributionstosoftwarescience

whenhereceivestheKyotoPrizeinAdvancedTechnologylaterthisweekinJapan。

AwardedannuallybytheInamoriFoundation,theKyotoPrizeislikenedtotheNobelPrizeandisoneoftheworldshighestawardsforacomputerscientist。

Winnersareselectedontherecommendationoftheirpeers,andmusthavemadeasignificantcontributiontothescientific,culturalorspiritualbettermentofsociety。

Theprizecomesontheheelsofanotherhonor:BritainsQueenElizabethIIknightedHoareearlierthisyear,makinghimonlythesecondcomputerscientistsohonored。

ThehonorsnotonlyreflecttheimportanceofHoareswork。

Theyalsoindicatehisstandingamongfellowscientistssomethingheisdrawingupontocontributeinanewwayduringthelateststageofhiscareer。

Self-describedasoneofcomputersciences

elderstatesmen,

HoareishelpingtoguidetheworkofotherresearchersatMicrosoftandelsewhereandattemptingtobuildbridgesamongdisparategroupsandmovementswithintheresearchcommunity。

Onlysomeonecomfortableindifferentareasofresearchincomputersciencecouldtakeonsuchatask,

saidProfessorJayadevMisra,RegentschairoftheUniversityofTexasatAustinsComputerSciencesDepartment。

TheremaynotbeanyonebettersuitedtothetaskthanTonyHoare。

CatchingtheWave

Forsomeonewhohasachievedsomuch,Hoarewentintocomputingwithmodestexpectations。

Infact,hethoughthehadreachedadeadendwhenhegothisfirstjobasacomputerprogrammerin1960withElliottBrothersLtd。

aBritishcomputer-manufacturingfirm。

BothofhisimmediatesuperiorswereonlyafewyearsolderthanHoarehimself。

IfiguredIhadmissedthebigwaveofexpansionincomputers,

herecalledrecentlyduringaninterviewinhisofficeatMSRCambridge。

Ofcourse,Iwaswrong。

Computershavebeenontherisingedgeofatechnologicalwavecontinuouslyfor40years。

ItsoneofthefewtimesHoaresinstinctshavebeenwrong。

Hemadehisfirstcontributiontocomputersciencebeforeheevenbecameaprofessionalprogrammer。

AfterstudyinglanguagesandphilosophyatOxfordUniversity,HoaredevelopedQuicksort,thefirstrapid,space-efficientalgorithmforsortingsequencesofnumbersandwordsinthememoryofacomputer。

Stillinhis20satthetime,HoarewascompletingapostgraduateyearatRussiasMoscowStateUniversity。

Hewasseekingawaytosimplifymachinetranslationofspokenlanguages。

Forefficientuseofadictionary,itwasnecessarytosortwordsofasentencealphabeticallybeforetranslatingthem。

Hecameupwithasimple,high-speedtechniquethatremainsattheheartofthemostextensivelyusedsortingalgorithmstothisday。

LongtimecolleagueEdsgerW。

Dijkstra,anotherofthepioneersofmoderncomputerprogramming,describesQuicksortasa

lovelyalgorithmItisthethingthathasbecomeanexemplarforawideclassofdesigns。

Italonewasenoughtomakeamanfamous。

HoaresLogic

ButDijkstraandotherresearchersagreeQuicksortisntHoaresgreatestachievement。

Thatcameinthelate1960s,whenthefirstlarge-capacitycomputerskeptbreakingdown,largelybecauseoffaultswithinthesoftware。

Hoaressolutiontotheso-called

softwarecrisis

drewfromhisloveofmathematics。

Heproposedthatmuchlikemathematicalequations,programminglanguagesshouldbedefinedandanalyzedbytheaxioms,oracceptedprinciples,andreasoningmethodsusedtocreatecorrectprograms。

WhatbecameknownasHoaresLogicallowedprogrammerstoconvertprogramsintoprovable,logicalformulas。

Atthetime,theacceptedmethodoftestingaprogramwastoreviewitsfinalresults。

Thisprovideslittleinsightintothenatureofaprogramsfaults,onlyshowingthataproblemexists,explainedMisra,acontributorto

AClassicalMind,

a1994collectionofessaysaboutHoareswork。

Hesawtheimportanceofprovingprogramscorrectatatimewhenmanypeopledidntrealizetheneedforit,

Misrasaid。

Dijkstra,whonowcallsHoaresproposal

extremelycourageous,

wasinitially

disgusted

byhiscolleaguesproposal。

Irejecteditasameaninglessballetofsymbols,

hesaid。

Butasitworkedout,afewyearslaterIbecameanexperiencedchoreographerofsuchballetsofsymbols。

Thoughstillnotuniversallyapplied,Hoaresapproachhasbecomeincreasinglyimportantinanerawhencomputerprogramscontrolmanyvitalservices。

Testinggivesussomeconfidence,butwecanneverbeassuredtheprogramwilloperatethesameasinthetest,

Misrasaid。

Ifyouaregoingtorelyoncomputerprogramstorunmuchofthespaceprogram,nuclearreactorsandairplanetraffic,werebetteroffifweknowapieceofsoftwareisfaithfultoitsintent。

ParallelProcessing

Onlyafewyearslater,thechallengesfacingcomputinghadevolved。

Thedevelopmentofthemicroprocessorallowedmultiplecomputerstoworkcollaborativelyandsolvelargerproblemsfaster。

Theonlyconcern:howtopreventthesecomputersfromtrippingeachotherupwhile

parallelprocessing,

orworkingtogether。

HoaredesignedCommunicatingSequentialProcesses(CSP),aparallelprogramminglanguagethatallowedindividualcomputerstocommunicateviamessages,muchastheynowdoovertheInternet。

Italsoeliminatedtheneedforasharedmemoryamongtheparallelcomputersandinspiredthedevelopmentofthetransputer,thefirstcompletecomputeronasinglesiliconchip。

Hewasoneofthefirstresearcherstoseetheimportanceofverydisciplinedcommunicationsbetweencomputers,

Misrasaid。

IndependentThinker

PerhapsthemostintriguingaspectofHoaressuccessincomputerscienceishislackofformaltraining。

Althoughheholdsadegreeinstatistics,hehastakenonlyonecourseincomputerprogrammingandneverearneddegreesinscienceormathematics。

Heinsteadpreferredtoviewmathas

ahobbysomethingthatoneactuallydoestosolveinterestingproblems,ratherthanasafixedbodyofknowledgethatonejustlearnstoreproduceinexaminations,

Hoaresaid。

Heconsiderstheunifyingthemeofhisworknottheimprovementofcomputerprogramsorlanguages,butratherthesearchforcertaintyorproofwithinhumanknowledge。

Itsbeenmygoaltoemploythecareanddevotionthatmathematiciansgivetotheirstudy,todetermineifsomepartofthatcanbetransferredtoprogrammingtomakecomputerprogramsmorereliableandsomuchbetteringeneral,

hesaid。

DijkstracreditsHoaressuccesstohis

flexibleandbrilliantmind,

aswellashisgoodfortunetohaveattendedBritishpublicschoolswhichareconsideredbysometobetheequivalentofAmericanprivateschoolsanduniversities。

TheseinstitutionsallowedHoaretopursuehismany,variedinterestswithoutropinghimintotheorthodoxyofanyonefieldofstudy。

Thatmadehimanindependentthinker,

Dijkstrasaid。

Thereisahugeamountofinformationoutthereandresearcherswhohavetheirownagendas,

Misrasaid。

ButProfessorHoarehasbeensuccessfulatdistillingproblemsintodeeptheoreticalinsightsandseeingtheproblemssharedamongdifferentareasofresearch。

BuildingBridges

Itistheseskills,aswellashisnear-mythicreputationamonghiscolleagues,thatMSRexpectswillhelpHoareinhislatestendeavor。

Aftermorethan30yearsdoingresearchandteachinginuniversities,HoarereturnedtoprivateindustrylastyearwithMicrosoft。

Heisamong50researchersatMSRsCambridgelab。

Likehisco-workers,HoareisfreetopursuehisresearchinterestswithoutanyrequirementthathisworktargetcurrentMicrosoftproducts。

OneofHoaresprimarygoalsistoworkwithMSRandotherresearcherstoseehowwelltheadvancesheandothersdevelopeddecadesagohavefilteredintopractice。

Inparticular,hewantstohelpdefinedisciplinesforthecreationofcomputercodethatfollowtheaxiomaticapproachheoutlinedinHoaresLogic。

Thiswouldadvancetheevolutionoflonger-lived,or

legacy,

codeandmakethiscodemoreresponsivetocustomerneeds。

Alongwithattendingandspeakingatresearchconferences,Hoarespendsmuchofhistimemeetinginformallywithotherresearcherstodiscusstheirwork。

IfIcanencouragepeoplewhoareworkinginthesedifficultareas,improvetheirmoraleor,perhaps,makesureotherpeopleseethevalueofwhattheyaredoing,thatsauniquecontributionthatIcanstillmake,

Hoaresaid。

DerekMcAuley,deputydirectorofMSRCambridge,agrees。

Tonybringsakeenmindandalotofexperience。

Thenumberoftimesweseeproblemsthathaveappearedbeforeisimmense。

Havinghisexperiencearoundmeansyoucanavoidgoingdownratholesthatresearcherswentdowninthepast。

Also,Hoarereportssoftwareengineeringproblemstotheacademicresearchcommunityinthehopethattheycanhelpfindsolutions。

Becauseofhisstatus,theissuesheraisestendtoattractattentionthroughouttheresearchcommunity,whichisoneofthegoalsofMicrosoftslabs。

WehopepeopleviewMicrosoftResearchasanactiveparticipantintheopenresearchcommunity,

McAuleysaid。

Ifwearegoingtodoourshareofresearch,wewanttomakesurewegivegoodaccesstothatinformation。

GettingHisDue

Despitehisachievements,Hoaresaidthathisrecentawardswere

completelyunexpectedoutoftheblue。

Heandtwootherrecipientsoneinthebasicsciences,theotherinartsandphilosophywillreceivetheKyotoprizesFriday,November10,aspartofa10-dayceremonythatincludesameetingwiththeEmperorofJapan。

Theawardalsoincludesacashprizeof$430,000foreachrecipient。

HoaresotherrecentmeetingwithamonarchcameonJan。

1,whenQueenElizabethIIknightedhimand20otherBritishcitizenswhoseachievementshaveleftamarkonthe20thcenturyorwillleaveamarkonthe21st。

Ihearthatmanyyoungpeoplearegoodatcomputing,

thequeencommentedduringtheirbriefintroduction。

Nervous,Hoarereplied:Yes,someofthem,maam。

Now,hekickshimself,andwonderswhyhedidntthinkofsomethingmoreprofound。

Somethinglike,

Yes,anditsagreatpleasuretocontinueworkingwiththem。


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