Lecture by Ivan Sutherland (Turing Award 1988)

  • 2014-05-16
  • Research

The Turing Award is recognized as the "Nobel Prize of computing". Alan Turing was mathematician at the University of Manchester

A Half-Century of Computing


The circuits from which we build computers have changed enormously during my lifetime, and so have the ways we express software algorithms. We use computers today in ways unimaginable when each computer was a room full of equipment. But in spite of vast changes in computer circuits, software, and applications, much of our thinking about what a computer is remains unchanged. We tend to think of a computer as a sequential device able to follow a series of specific instructions.

Given the billions of logic elements now available to computer designers how might changes in thinking enhance the value of computing devices? Computing now faces limits from the speed of light and from heat generation that could previously be ignored. The mathematics of computing has little to say about these very real physical limits and programming languages remain largely silent on both communication and energy. It is time to rethink what a computer is and to evolve new ways to build, understand, and command them.


Ivan Sutherland wrote and debugged his first computer program at age 15 in 1953. Ten years later he earned a Ph.D. degree from MIT with a well-known thesis called Sketchpad that opened the way to Computer Aided Design. He was a key faculty member in the University of Utah group that pioneered realistic solid-looking computer pictures now widely used in computer-animated movies. For the last 25 years he has designed integrated circuits with novel approaches to timing and concurrency.

Dr. Sutherland is a member of both the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Engineering. He was the 1988 recipient of the ACM Turing award and the 2012 Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology. Dr. Sutherland is author of over 60 US patents, as well as numerous papers and two books. Dr Sutherland makes his home in Portland, Oregon. He works full time at Portland State University in the Asynchronous Research Center (ARC) that he and his wife, Marly Roncken, founded in 2008. Dr Sutherland has four adult grandchildren, but no great-grandchildren (yet).


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