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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  • Sis

    How can this BE?! Computing involves mathematics, science!?

    Thank you Dr. Liskov.

    I hope this leads to a TNA press release, announcing her achievement to women everywhere, congratulating her, and thanking her for being a role model to young women. And old women.

    Larry Summers, will you have ice cream with your pie?

  • Congrats to Dr. Liskov and to all women! The history of women in computer sciences is long indeed. Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer, developing a language for a machine that wasn’t even yet built when she developed that language. Dr. Liskov is truly a trailblazer today, though, because the asbsence of women in IT has an impact. This goes back to what Tim Berners Lee said about women in IT:

    “A culture that avoided alienating women would attract more female programmers, which could lead to greater harmony of systems design. If there were more women involved, we could move towards interoperability. We have to change at every level.”

    Dr. Liskov is proving that every single day!

  • Sheryl Robinson, Editrix

    Thanks for writing this up, Judy.

    When I put it in the queue last night, from the two pictures you included, I deliberately chose the picture with Dr. Liskov in front of the blackboard, rather than the simple head shot.

    Because even with the Nobel, some will fail to note that this is a woman who can do math.

  • Kathy in CA

    Great idea Sheryl regarding the picture. It does make a big impact!

  • AnneE

    My husband has known Dr. Liskov for years because of his profession and says that she is as decent as she brilliant.