What It Means to
Receive the Turing Award
innovation is certainly good, but so is
strife for recognition: the world would
be extremely dangerous if scientists
no longer craved social approval! Innovation and recognition, however,
can be antagonistic forces. The saf-est way to gather broad approval is to
advance an already accepted research
direction. It is thus a crucial role of
the Turing Award to strike a better balance between these two innate forces,
and give a louder voice to “the better
angels of our nature.” Each and every
one of my friends here has earned the
Turing Award by going against the then
prevailing wisdom, by treading where
everyone else feared to go, by rolling
a bright red carpet on what used to be
ACM HELD A press confer- enceon Nov. 13,2014toan- nounce Google’s $1 million funding of the ACM A.M. Turing Award (see p. 31).
In attendance were seven Turing laureates: Michael Rabin, Robert Tarjan,
Butler Lampson, Edmund Clarke, Joseph Sifakis, Barbara Liskov, and Silvio
Micali. At the event, Micali was asked to
share what it means to receive the Turing
Award. Here are his comments.
I’ll be brief.
As we enter life, we all struggle to
understand the world. Some of us
continue this struggle with dogged determination. These are the scientists.
Some of them realize that computation
provides a privileged perspective to understand the world outside and the one
within. These are the computer scientists. To some of them, once a year, the
ACM confers the Turing Award.
It is wonderful that six Turing
awardees could attend this event. Personally, I am particularly happy, because they are not only my role models and my mentors, but my friends as
well. On behalf of this uniquely distinguished group, I wish to share with you
my view on what it means to receive the
Let me start by saying that the Tur-
ing Award gives us a unique opportu-
nity to become ambassadors of our
wonderful field. Within our computer
science community, everyone always
knew they could go to Michael, Bob,
Butler, Ed, Joseph, and Barbara for an
idea, a suggestion, or an opinion. But
the Turing Award increases our outside
visibility and enables us to build bridg-
es to other disciplines. There is already
a vibrant cooperation between com-
puter science and mathematics, eco-
nomics, quantum physics, and biology.
But it is becoming clear that computa-
tion underlies many more fields, and
it is a duty and a privilege for a Tur-
ing Award winner to provide an initial
point of contact and to facilitate joint
exploration with other fields.
My second meaning is more per-
sonal. But since the more personal
we get the more universal we become,
I suspect that my friends also share
this meaning. As scientists, we strive
not only for utmost innovation and but
also for broadest recognition. Strife for
Turing laureates at the ACM press conference (front row, from left): Silvio Micali (2012),
Michael O. Rabin (1976), Edmund M. Clarke (2007). Back row, from left: Joseph Sifakis (2007),
Barbara Liskov (2008), Butler W. Lampson (1992), Robert Tarjan (1986).