Claude Shannon

Wednesday May 7th, 2014
Presentation at 4:00 P.M.

RSVP Requested
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Huang Engineering Center, Room 300
475 Via Ortega, Stanford University, CA

Parking Generally Free In Nearby Lots After 4:00 pm

Let's Not Dumb Down the History of Computer Science

Dr. Donald Knuth
Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming
Stanford University

This is the 2014 Kailath Lecture


    For many years the history of computer science was presented in a way that was useful to computer scientists. But nowadays almost all technical content is excised; historians are concentrating rather on issues like how computer scientists have been able to get funding for their projects, and/or how much their work has influenced Wall Street. We no longer are told what ideas were actually discovered, nor how they were discovered, nor why they are great ideas. We get only a scorecard.
    Similar trends are occurring with respect to other sciences. Historians generally now prefer “external history” to “internal history,” so that they can write stories that appeal to readers with almost no expertise.
    Historians of mathematics have thankfully been resisting such temptations. In this talk the speaker will explain why he is so grateful for the continued excellence of papers on mathematical history, and he will make a plea for historians of computer science to get back on track.


Photo of Pr. Donald E. Knuth Pr. Donald E. Knuth has been working since 1962 on The Art of Computer Programming, a series of books that attempts to organize and explain many of the most important methods that are used inside of computers and to trace the interesting history of their development. Four volumes of that series have been published so far, and he also has more than two dozen other books in print. Moreover, Knuth has written a popular software system called TeX, to facilitate and enhance the publication of books that are being written by everybody else.
    Among the honors he has received for this work are the ACM Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the Kyoto Prize, and the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award. [In fact, he is one of Stanford's stars, because the minor planet (21656) Knuth has been named after him!]



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