Turing Lecture 2011 – Donald Knuth

Back in February I was fortunate enough to go to the BCS and IET Turing Lecture. I’ve been in previous years and found the lecture quality to vary. Back in 2007 I was fortunate enough to see Grady Booch give a talk on “The Promise, the Limits and the Beauty of Software”. This year it was given by Donald Knuth, which promised to be just as interesting.

Day 101, originally uploaded by lucyb_22.

It did indeed prove to be a fascinating talk. Titled an ‘evening with’, rather than a formal lecture, it was an opportunity for one of the best minds in computer science to talk about his experiences and memories, as well as promote his latest book, the (very) long awaited “Art of Computer Programming Volume 4A”.

Knuth recalled the way that teleprinter code was an efficient way to write binary; talking about Turing, and the Mark I. He also joked about how he used graph theory to help design his new kitchen.

My favourite quote of the evening was, by far: “Beware the above code. I have only proved it correct, not tried it.”

When asked, Knuth said he finds pointers in C to be the most elegant type of code. However, he stressed that he found the debugger to be more important, saying that it is the interface with the machine that really matters.

He finished the evening by stating that we are “living in a golden age” and I can’t help but think he’s right.

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