John Backus, 82, whose development of the Fortran programming accent in the 1950s afflicted how bodies interacted with computers and paved the way for avant-garde software, died March 17 in Ashland, Ore., according to IBM Corp., area he spent his career. No account of afterlife was reported.
Afore Fortran, computers had to be anxiously “hand-coded” — programmed in the raw strings of digits that triggered accomplishments central the machine. Fortran was a “high-level” programming accent because it absent that assignment — it let programmers access commands in a added automatic system, which the computer would construe into apparatus cipher on its own.
The advance becoming Mr. Backus the 1977 Turing Award from the Association for Accretion Machinery, one of the industry’s accomplished accolades. The commendation accepted his “profound, influential, and abiding contributions.”
Mr. Backus additionally won a National Medal of Science in 1975 and the 1993 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the top account from the National Academy of Engineering.
“Much of my assignment has appear from actuality lazy,” Mr. Backus told Think, the IBM agent magazine, in 1979. “I didn’t like autograph programs, and so, back I was alive on the [early computer] IBM 701, autograph programs for accretion missile trajectories, I started assignment on a programming arrangement to accomplish it easier to address programs.”
John Warner Backus was built-in in Wilmington, Del., in 1924. He had what he would afterwards call as a “checkered educational career” in basic academy and at the University of Virginia, which he larboard afterwards six months. Afterwards actuality drafted into the Army, Mr. Backus advised anesthetic but alone it back he begin radio engineering added compelling.
Mr. Backus assuredly begin his calling in math, and he pursued a master’s amount at Columbia University. Shortly afore graduating, he toured the IBM offices in midtown Manhattan and came beyond the company’s Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator, an aboriginal computer blimp with 13,000 exhaustion tubes. He met one of the machine’s inventors, Rex Seeber — who “gave me a little bootleg analysis and assassin me on the spot,” Mr. Backus recalled in 1979.
Mr. Backus’s aboriginal assignment at IBM included accretion lunar positions on the balky, beefy computers that were advanced in the 1950s. But he annoyed of hand-coding the hardware, and in 1954, he accumulated a aggregation to architecture an easier system.
The result, Fortran, abbreviate for Formula Translation, bargain the cardinal of programming statements all-important to accomplish a apparatus by a agency of 20. It showed skeptics that machines could run aloof as calmly after hand-coding. A advanced ambit of programming languages and software approaches proliferated, although Fortran additionally acquired over the years and is still in use.
Mr. Backus remained with IBM until his retirement in 1991. Among his added important contributions was a adjustment for anecdotic the accurate grammar of computer languages. The arrangement is accepted as Backus-Naur Form.
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