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Turing Lecture with Prof Donald Knuth

11 February, 2011 (15:24) | Lecture, Miscellaneous, String Searching | By: Michael Bell

Yesterday I attended the BCS and IET Turing Lecture in Glasgow. This year the lecture was given by Donald Knuth. Saying it was a lecture was slightly mis-leading, as it was basically a question and answer session. This was part 4 of the lectures, having also given the lecture at Manchester, Cardiff and London.

I’d imagine it would be hard to find a computer scientist who hasn’t heard of Don or been impacted by his work. Having done an algorithm course I was exposed to algorithm analysis, where he is often credited as being the father, as well as the Knuth-Morris-Pratt string searching algorithm which also impacted my Dissertation. As we look to publish our first paper, I have also made use of TeX (well, LaTeX) which was written by Don. Finally, his Art of Computer Programming books, which I really must find time to read some day!

Before the question and answer session, Don was awarded an honorary degree from Glasgow. Following this, the question and answer session started. The questions asked were generally pretty good, and covering subjects such as the functional programming paradigm, art vs. science of programming and how to be a good teacher. At times it was hard to hear Don, and likewise Don struggling to clearly hear the questions. In some cases his answers were a tad rambly and went around the subject with no clear answer to the question. Nevertheless it was an interesting lecture and glad I managed to attend. Some of the main (or humorous) points/quotes, with help from the twitter hashtag:

  • On the subject of teaching: “Say everything at least twice, once formally and once informally.”
  • On the subject of functional programming: “Out of the ~250 programs I wrote last year, 2-3 would have benefited from being written in a functional style.”
  • On the subject of functional programming: “With 1 or even 2 hands tied behind your back it’s hard to do anything dangerous.”
  • On the subject of TAOCP: “I started working on the art of computer programming 49 years ago, January 1962″
  • On the subject of text books becoming less popular: “Almost anything is out of fashion compared to Facebook.”
  • On the subject of NP Problems “Knuth believes P=NP, but that the proof will be nonconstructive and won’t help us write efficient programs.”
  • On Combinatorial Algorithms: “Almost no combinatorial algorithms were known in 1962.”

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