March 12, 2009 / Uncategorized

Dr. Barbara Liskov Awarded Nobel Prize of Computing

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This Blog Made Possible By…

Dr. Barbara Liskov

Dr. Barbara Liskov

Congratulations to Dr. Barbara Liskov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this year’s recipient of what MIT News calls the  “Nobel Prize of Computing.”

“Barbara Liskov pioneered some of the most important advances in fundamental computer science,” said  Provost 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 account statement online or run a Google search, you are riding the momentum of her research.”

Indeed, even this blog probably is made possible by Liskov’s work.

Liskov was the first U.S. woman to receive a PhD in computer science (Stanford in 1968).  Asked by the MIT publication Tech Talk what advice she would give girls thinking about a career in the field, she said, “…the kind of thinking and problem-solving [computer science] requires matches my abilities… Young women (and young men) who find that computer science is a match for them should pursue it.  There is lots of interesting work remaining to be done.

Disclaimer:  this blogger is not a computer scientist, but my best understanding is that Dr. Liskov is famous for her work in organizing computer programs to separate the what from the how.  For example, all of us can place phone calls knowing only the what – the phone number, without having to re-invent the how.  Then when there’s a new how, like cellular service, it can be swapped into the system without any need for us to have new whats (phone numbers).  (My apologies to all of those who truly understand Liskov’s work, for that grossly oversimplified analogy to explain what computer people call Data Abstraction.)  In any case, her work made it much easier to build and manage very complex programs.  Liskov today heads a group within MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and is working on security for online data storage.

The A.M. Turing Award is named for the man often called the “father of computer science,” known for breaking the Nazi enigma code during WWII.  It is presented annually by the Association for Computing Machinery, and thanks to Intel and Google, it comes with $250,000.  So here’s to Dr. Liskov and to the recognition she’s receiving, and to drop (however small) into the bucket that is the earnings gap.

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