‘An Evening with Donald Knuth – All Questions Answered’ – 7th Annual Turing Lecture

Professor Donald E. Knuth

Professor Donald E. Knuth

If you don’t know Knuth then you should:

Donald E. Knuth (B.S. and M.S., Case Institute of Technology 1960; Ph.D., California Institute of Technology 1963) is Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming at Stanford University, where he supervised the Ph.D. dissertations of 28 students since becoming a professor in 1968.

He is the author of numerous books, including three widely translated volumes (so far) of The Art of Computer Programming, recently augmented by a new hardback released as Volume 4A, five volumes of Computers & Typesetting, eight volumes of collected papers and a non-technical book entitled 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated. His software systems TeX and METAFONT are extensively used for book publishing throughout the world.

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, and he is a foreign associate of the French, Norwegian, Russian and Bavarian science academies as well as the Royal Society of London.

He received the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1974; the National Medal of Science from President Carter in 1979; BCS Distinguished Fellowship in 1980; the Steele Prize from the American Mathematical Society in 1986; the Adelsköld Medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1994; the Harvey Prize from the Technion of Israel in 1995; the John von Neumann Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1995; and the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation in 1996.

He holds honorary doctorates from Oxford University, the University of Paris, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the University of St. Petersburg, the University of Marne-la-Vallée, Masaryk University, St. Andrews University, Athens University of Economics and Business, the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, the Universities of Tübingen, Antwerp, ETH, Oslo and Bordeaux, and at least eighteen colleges and universities in America.

Don hasn’t had an email address since January 1, 1990. As might be expected of a person who own a sixteen-rank 812 pipe Abbot and Sieker organ he is a member of the American Guild of Organists.

The University of Manchester, in partnership with the IET, BCS and IBM, hosted Professor Professor Knuth as the 7th annual Turing Lecture speaker.

7th Annual Turing Lecture

7th Annual Turing Lecture

Don Knuth, Computer Scientist and Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming at Stanford University, USA,  engaged with the audience in a question and answer session titled ‘An Evening with Donald Knuth – All Questions Answered’… and I’d expect my view to be incredibly bias.

To me Don’s answers were a call for Human Factors and cross-disciplinary work. Why, what, how? I hear you splutter – Don does algorithms and computational logic with a bit of big-number theory doesn’t he? All true, all true – but let me justify this…

When asked:

  1. Why he got into Computer Science Don replied that – it was because the documentation on a machine he was working on didn’t have usable documentation;
  2. What would he  use the 1948 SME ‘Baby’ for – generating music;
  3. How would he turn children on to computing – highly interactive applications such as  A/V and mixed media/modalities;
  4. What took him the longest time – Metafont, getting the fonts to be usable and accessible in document preparation and typesetting; and
  5. Where is computing headed – more interactivity.

Now while I may be pushing-it to assert his responses where all about human factors (they weren’t) go have a look at the video on the University of Manchester Computer Science site, or the BCS site – listen carefully to his answers – there is so much human factors work in his answers you’d be silly not to take notice.


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