Barbara Liskov wins Turing Award

March 10, 2009

Barbara Liskov, photo taken by the ACM on the occasion of Barbara's winning the  the Turing Award

Institute Professor Barbara Liskov has won the Association for Computing Machinery's A.M. Turing Award, one of the highest honors in science and engineering, for her pioneering work in the design of computer programming languages. In its press release announcing the award, the ACM cited Professor Liskov “for contributions to practical and theoretical foundations of programming language and system design, especially related to data abstraction, fault tolerance, and distributed computing.”

Liskov's achievements underpin virtually every modern computing-related convenience in people's daily lives. She is only the second woman to receive the honor, which carries a $250,000 purse and is often described as the "Nobel Prize in computing."

As noted in the March 10, 2009 MIT News Office article, MIT President Susan Hockfield responded to the award announcement: "Computer science stands squarely at the center of MIT's identity, and Institute Professor Barbara Liskov's unparalleled contributions to the field represent an MIT ideal: groundbreaking research with profound benefits for humankind. We take enormous pride that she has received the Turing Award."

"Barbara Liskov pioneered some of the most important advances in fundamental computer science," said Provost L. Rafael Reif. "Her exceptional achievements have leapt from the halls of academia to transform daily life around the world. Every time you exchange e-mail with a friend, check your bank statement online or run a Google search, you are riding the momentum of her research."

As the first U.S. woman to earn a PhD in computer science, Liskov has headed the Programming Methodology Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, CSAIL, at MIT, where she has conducted research since 1972. Last year, she was named an Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded to an MIT faculty member.

Liskov's early innovations in software design have been the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java and C#. Her most significant impact stems from her influential contributions to the use of data abstraction, a valuable method for organizing complex programs. She was a leader in demonstrating how data abstraction could be used to make software easier to construct, modify and maintain.

In another contribution, Liskov designed CLU, an object-oriented programming language incorporating clusters to provide coherent, systematic handling of abstract data types. Data abstraction is now a generally accepted fundamental method of software engineering that focuses on data rather than processes.

Building on CLU concepts, Liskov followed with Argus, a distributed programming language. Its novel features led to further developments in distributed system design that could scale to systems connected by a network--laying the groundwork for modern search engines.

As a natural followup to the development of search engines and the growth to billions of users and potentials for system failures, Liskov has most recently focused on techniques that enable a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of some of its components. Her work on practical Byzantine fault tolerance demonstrated that there were more efficient ways of dealing with arbitrary (Byzantine) failures than had been previously known. Her insights have helped build robust, fault-tolerant distributed systems that are resistant to errors and hacking. This research is likely to change the way distributed system designers think about providing reliable service on today's modern, vulnerable Internet.

Read more in the MIT News Office, March 10, 2009 article, from which this announcement has been drawn.

Congratulations Barbara!