Honoured for providing the foundation for distributed computing systems

Leslie Lamport, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, has won the Association for Computing Machinery’s A.M. Turing Award for his pioneering work in advancing the correctness, performance, reliability and consistency of computing systems, the ACM has announced. His efforts enabled the building of distributed computing systems that work.

This report is based on news releases from ACM and Microsoft.

Leslie Lamport‘s computer passion began in high school in the mid-1950s where he used discarded vacuum tubes to build digital circuits. In 1978 he issued a landmark paper, Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System.

The Turing Award citation notes that Lamport originated causality and logical clocks, replicated state machines, and sequential consistency. Along with others, he invented the notion of Byzantine failure and algorithms for reaching agreement despite such failures; he contributed to the development and understanding of proof methods for concurrent systems, notably by introducing the notions of safety and liveness as the proper generalizations of partial correctness and termination to the concurrent setting.

ACM president Vint Cerf  – a previous Turing Award recipient — said  that “as an applied mathematician, Leslie Lamport had an extraordinary sense of how to apply mathematical tools to important practical problems. By finding useful ways to write specifications and prove correctness of realistic algorithms, assuring strong foundation for complex computing operations, he helped to move verification from an academic discipline to practical tool.”

Wen-Hann Wang, Intel,’s corporate vice-president and managing director of Intel Labs, said that Lamport’s “pioneering work in distributed and concurrent algorithms substantially improved consumer and industrial computing systems, ranging from multiprocessor technology used in data centers to multicomputer networks used in aircraft control systems,” he said. In particular, he added, “the brilliant ‘logical clock’ abstraction he introduced some 40 years ago has had an immense impact on the field. It provided an elegant framework for reasoning about distributed protocols which are critical elements of the interconnected world.”

Alfred Spector Google Vice President of Research comments “with the growing shift to ever-larger scale distributed systems and cloud computing, Lamport’s work has taken on a significantly increased role. His results have benefited many research communities including those in parallel and high performance computing systems, concurrent algorithms, and software reliability.  And, his work has had implications not just in the theoretical community, but also with the engineers and programmers who design and implement many types of systems.”

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said the award is well-deserved recognition for a remarkable scientist. “As a leader in defining many of the key concepts of distributed computing that enable today’s mission-critical computer systems, Leslie has done great things not just for the field of computer science, but also in helping make the world a safer place. Countless people around the world benefit from his work without ever hearing his name. I like to think this award is also recognition of the amazing work of Microsoft Research, which has become a great home for scientists and engineers who want to tackle the industry’s most difficult challenges. Leslie is a fantastic example of what can happen when the world’s brightest minds are encouraged to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Lamport’s work has benefited Microsoft’s products: Windows Azure storage, Azure’s Rest Availability Proxy, and the Cosmos data storage and query system, Windows Server Transaction Protocol. The company said The modeling in the Oslo platform for model-driven applications was inspired by his work on Temporal Logic of Actions (TLA), it added, and many at Microsoft have benefited from Lamport’s LaTeX document-preparation system.

Lamport’s numerous honours include the IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award, Edsger W. Dijkstra Prize, IEEE John von Neumann Medal, election to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His extensive career includes work at SRI International and Digital Equipment Corporation (later Compaq Corporation). A mathematics graduate from MIT, he received masters and doctorate  degrees in mathematics from Brandeis University.

The ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society,  will present the award – which carries a US$250,000 prize – June 21 in San Francisco.

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