TITLE: Kenneth Iverson, RIP
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: October 22, 2004 9:45 AM
DESC: Another computing great has left us.
Kenneth Iverson passed away
on October 19. Iverson is best known for creating APL, an
extremely powerful and concise programming language. In
1979, Iverson received the Turing Award for his work on
programming and notations for describing programs.
Concise taken too far turns into cryptic, and APL is often
derided for its unreadability. But I have a special place
in my heart for APL after a three-week unit studying it in
my undergraduate programming languages course in the mid-80s.
I've always marveled at just how powerful language can be.
In APL, I could write a program to shuffle a deck of cards
and deal them to several players in four characters.
Within its domain of matrix processing, APL was king.
I met Iverson in the late 1980s while studying at Michigan State.
He came to speak about his more recent language development work,
which ultimately led to the
J programming language.
J synthesized ideas from APL with the functional programming
ideas found in John Backus's FP. (Backus also won the Turing
Award for work on programming languages, in 1977.) I don't
remember much about the day of Iverson's talk at MSU, except
that he graciously and patiently fielded many aggressive
questions from the audience.
I am on quite a Turing Award ride these days. As I
blogged earlier today,
I've been thinking of Edsger Dijkstra this week. Iverson and
Backus won in the late '70s. And I'm preparing my introduction
for Alan Kay, who is giving the keynote address at the
OOPSLA 2004 Educators' Symposium
on Monday and then giving his
2003 Turing Award lecture
the next night. My excitement about Alan Kay's talks is only
heightened by Iverson's passing, as it reminds me that great
thinkers are mortal, too. We should appreciate them and learn
from them while they are with us.