This year’s Computing Nobel Prize Winners – Vint Cerf & Bob Kahn


ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) announced that the Turing Award 2004 will go to Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn.

Announced every year in February-March and awarded in the ACM Award Banquet in June, Turing Awards represent the most prestigious award in the broad area of computing and Information Technology and widely considered as the Nobel Prize equivalent. This award is given to individuals whose technical contribution is of lasting nature. There are 49 individuals who have won Turing Awards since 1966 when the first award was given.

The awards are named after the British Scientist Alan Turing (1912-54); considered the father of modern Computer Science, Turing was a mathematician, philosopher and a visionary. Turing visualized the famous “Turing Machine” that forms the “model architecture” for all digital computers that have been built over the past fifty years. Turing was also known for his “Turing Test” that forms the foundation of Artificial Intelligence.

The Turing award is given by ACM, that is considered the “First Society” in computing and Information Technology. Founded way back 1947 (coincidentally India’s Independence), and with its 78,000 members spread across the globe, ACM has major contributions to computing by way of dozens of high quality journals, transactions, magazines, SIG (Special Interest Group) Newsletters, a Portal and a rich Digital Library.
The Turing Awards carry a cash prize of $ 100,000 sponsored by Intel Corporation.

Interestingly David Tennenhouse, Vice President in the Corporate Technology Group and Director of Research, who was the Intel Representative in the Press Conference where the Award was announced in late February in the United States was in Bangalore on March 10, 2005.

This year’s Award winners Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn were recognized for their contribution – TCP/IP the Internetworking Protocol – that has far reaching impact on the growth of the Internet and the wide-spread acceptance of applications (used by common man and woman across the world) that include Web Browsing, e-mail, Instant Messaging, P2P, Internet buying & auctioning and collaboration tools.

Dr Vinton Cerf completed his Undergraduate studies in Mathematics at Stanford University and moved to UCLA for his PhD program. Dr Robert Kahn did his Undergraduate studies in the City College New York and finished his PhD from Princeton. After teaching at MIT and working for Bell Laboratories & BBN, he moved to DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Project Agency) of the United States and planned the ARPANET, the computer network for DARPA that became the test bed for several innovative ideas in computing. Cerf and Kahn were contemporaries for several years at DARPA.

Kahn and Cerf started their work in DARPA experimenting with the idea of inter-networking three independent networks. They demonstrated the first Inter-network running the e-mail application in ICCC (International Computers and Communications Conference) in 1972. Their paper on TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) appeared in 1974; this protocol was “open” and proposed a philosophy of separating the content into packets, sending the packets (datagrams) to the destination based on headers (“to” and “from” addresses). Subsequently, in 1978 the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol) was published, where the headers are used to “route” packets of data using IP, clearly separating the “contents processing” from “routing”. This twin protocol was robust, scaleable and independent of the underlying hardware, networking and operating system; over the past three decades, they have become near “universal”. Most other “proprietary” protocols from computer vendors like IBM and DEC have fallen by the way side. In fact, a standard protocol OSI (Open System Interconnection), proposed by ISO (International Standards Organization) has also withered away, and the TCP/IP Protocols have become the dominant protocol today.

Interestingly, TCP/IP is getting increasing traction not only from computer industry, but also the telecommunications industry (many high-end models of Nokia phones can take an IP address). With the proliferation of IP networks, IP is getting into the voice world as well in the form of Voice-Over-IP (VoIP); soon, Video will also get routed over IP.

The TCP/IP protocol itself is moving to the next generation IPv6 that has a much larger addressing capability.

Obviously, the research works of Cerf & Kahn are far-reaching and lasting contributions to the IT community.

Dr Cerf is currently with MCI; Dr Kahn is the Founder & CEO of CNRI (Corporation for National Research Initiatives).

(Financial Express – Look at IT March 18, 2005)

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