Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Celebrating 50 years of Turing Awards

When I received an invitation to participate in the celebration of 50 years of the ACM Turing Award, I jumped at the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the computing profession and see what the future holds.

Since its inauguration in 1966, the ACM Turing Award has recognized major contributions of lasting importance in computing. It has become the most prestigious award in the field, often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of computing".

With Prof. Liskov at #Turing50
The event (on June 23rd) opened with Prof. Barbara Liskov (a Turing award winner herself) talking about the impacts made by the Turing award winners. Given that she just had 20 minutes, she  only covered the winners in the first 25 years.  They could be split four categories:

1. Theory (Knuth, Rabin & Scott, Stephen Cook, Richard Karp)
2. AI (Minsky, McCarthy, Newell & Simon)
3. Systems (Bachman, Codd, Thompson & Ritchie)
4. Programming Language & Methodology (Backus, Iverson, Djikstra, Floyd, Hoare, Wirth)

The first panel on "Advances is Deep Neural Networks" was moderated by Judea Pearl - a Turing award winner. The panelists included Michael Jordan and Stuart Russell of UCB. The intent of the panel was to discuss how deep learning has been applied with "great success" in speech recognition, image recognition, natural language processing, drug discovery, customer relationship management and recommendation systems. However, the panelists mostly dealt the "hype" around deep learning with a healthy dose of skepticism. "Neural Networks are faking it well enough that you can build companies and get funded", "Deep learning would not discover the Higgs-Boson particle from 50 Tb/sec of data generated by the Hadron Collider" were some of opinions. Every one agreed that "This is not the beginning. It is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning" (attributed to Winston Churchill, in Nov. 1942)

The next panel was on "Restoring personal privacy without compromising national security". The panelists included Turing award winner, Whitfield Diffie. We are living in the age of Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Exfiltration of Intellectual Property is only a click away. The panel explored how state-of-the-art cryptography and data management technology might enable government agencies to acquire actionable information about targets of investigation without intruding on the electronic activity of innocent parties. Bryan Ford provided an excellent opening statement where he said that technology has become an integral part of our system of governance that determines what rights and freedoms we do and don't have. So, policy makers need to work closely with technologists to preserve individual freedom and bridge the gap. Just as a definition of "healthy" is "absence of being sick", the definition of "security" is the "absence of being hacked".

The panel on "Moore's Law is really dead; What's Next" was moderated by John Hennessy. The panelists included Butler Lampson, a Turing Award winner. We are definitely seeing that semiconductor density is not doubling at the rate it has been. The 50-year exponential has ended. There are new paradigms being explored - such as spatial computation, programmable biology, Google's TensorFlow and quantum computing. Butler Lampson summed it up by playing on Richard Feynman's postulation, "There is plenty of room at the bottom" by saying, "There is plenty of room at the top".

Donald Knuth started proceedings on Saturday (June 24th). He gave an opening statement and then opened it up to audience questions. He was asked about the threat of AI (referring to the works and papers of UCB professor, Stuart Russell). He responded he would normally base his answer on the assumption that human beings are rational. "And then I looked at the election results," he said. He encouraged every one to watch his 2014 Kailath Lecture, at Stanford "Let us not dumb down the history of computer science". 

There were two other panels on Quantum Computing and Augmented Reality. The videos for the event are available for on-demand viewing here.