Monday, March 19, 2007

John Backus, 1924-2007

John Backus died on Saturday. He was the father of FORTRAN, Turing Award winner, and one of the names behind the Backus-Naur form (Peter Naur, 2005 Turing Award winner, was the other).

No matter how much you might make fun of FORTRAN today, the fact is that it remains the language of choice for many scientific computing packages. Even if you're writing in C, you're probably interfacing with routines first written in FORTRAN.

His Turing Award lecture is also a remarkable read. Titled, "Can programming be liberated from the Von Neumann style", it laid the groundwork for functional programming, and anticipated many of the stream programming paradigms that we see today, from GPU programs to Google's MapReduce system. I'm always humbled when I read articles from so many years ago that have such resonance today; I can only hope that anything that I do can still have value even ten years later.

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