Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Computing pioneer dies at age 82

The man who led the creation of Fortran, the first successful high-level computing language, John W. Backus, died Saturday at age 82. According to this obituary in the New York Times, Mr. Backus grew tired of "hand-to-hand combat with the machine" via assembly language, and convinced his superiors at IBM to let his team create a new language that communicated with the computer at a higher level of abstraction; i.e. closer to the process of human thinking. The first Fortran compiler was completed in 1957, a year before the word "software" had even been coined.

The Times added:

Fortran was also extremely efficient, running as fast as programs painstakingly hand-coded by the programming elite, who worked in arcane machine languages. This was a feat considered impossible before Fortran. It was achieved by the masterful design of the Fortran compiler, a program that captures the human intent of a program and recasts it in a way that a computer can process.

People who once programmed in Fortran are getting older, and many have moved onto other professions, like marketing.

Rest in peace, Mr. Backus.

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Colin said...

You might be interested in this blog item about Backus as an experimental innovator:


All the best,

Colin Stewart
O.C. Register and ArtsofInnovation blog