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Google Lifts the Turing Award into Nobel Territory (bits.blogs.nytimes.com)
266 points by gordon_freeman on Nov 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

It's unclear from the article whether Google endowed the award to a sustainable level of $1M/year, or is just supporting it at that level for now. Clearly an endowment would make a stronger statement.

There's a suggestion that it was not an endowment, because of the note that Intel stepped away from sponsorship.

The official press release doesn't mention anything about an endowment either: http://amturing.acm.org/prize-news.cfm

(In the current environment, to get interest of $1m a year would require a very large endowment - something like $30m+ - and you'd think that would be mentioned prominently.)

That's not huge compared to their other contributions. Look here:


Yes but its also not Google's sole responsibility to endow this. It would be great to see other companies follow Google's lead.

The Nobel Prize was endowed by Alfred Nobel. I had not read the story and the summary is fully worth reading:


The Economics Nobel was not one of the original prizes, but it too was endowed, by the Bank of Sweden. Apparently the Bank also gives an annual contribution, approximately equal to the prize amount ($1M), to administer the prize.

But did any of the others not mention the endowment or sum being donated...?

The prize money is definitely a great idea. It'll probably be seen as a rich-company-PR move, but in hindsight, I think we'll see it as a sign of the times.

Computer science seems to be going through a similar transformation as Palo Alto. Just as Palo Alto went from a place where people were modest about their wealth to one where vanity license-plates decorate Teslas at the curb-side, computer scientists seem to have transformed in public imagination from quiet nerds to celebrity saviors of mankind. I'm not sure the image is well-deserved, but so it goes.

I don't think that transformation has really happened in the public imagination at large, but perhaps it has in the bay area. Sure, the public imagination is somewhat taken with some of technology's successful figures, like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but successful business-people have always been admired, regardless of whether their background is in finance or marketing or management or engineering or programming.

This is especially considering how every Turing award winner is recognized for extremely technical contributions. There's no way the general public will think of Richard Karp or Stephen Cook as a hero because they won't even be able to say anything resembling what they did.

Most Nobel prizes in physics are awarded for extremely technical work as well, but people frequently find ways to distill some of it into something understandable enough to make for good popular articles whenever the prizes are announced.

Well to be fair, even the Nobel prize is a sort of PR move, though a posthumous one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Nobel#Nobel_Prizes

Everything large organizations and ultra-rich people do is PR.

Nice, better than my response. :)

the anonymous veneer can just be used to make the donator seem even more selfless and impressive:


No enthusiasm. Just demonstrating that that person was obviously wrong. It was the quickest thing I could come up with in 15 seconds. I was just giving a proof by contradiction. All I need is one, right? I can give you other reasons people give to charities. They might want to see a cure for a disease they might get, for example.

$125m to Stanford: http://cancer.stanford.edu/research/documents/scinewswinter2...

Didn't one or both of the Google founders donate to help some conditions that they have?

Howard Hughes gave a lot of his money to his medical institute simply because he didn't want to give it to the government.


Staying out of the public eye is very much a PR strategy as well.

Like ordering protesting student-teachers to be ridden of by gang members... Making other companies bankrupt through leveraging your OS near-monopoly... Colluding with the SEC to not get criminally charged for your financial fraud... Investing your future memristors... Eradicating Malaria...

> computer scientists seem to have transformed in public imagination from quiet nerds to celebrity saviors of mankind.

The people I'm around seem to still view programmers/computer scientists as awkward nerds, but now they're awkward nerds who you can make money off of.

To lift its prestige, it would be nice to have the Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth to hand out the award too.

That'd be a one-up on the Nobel prize, which is handed out by the King of Sweden. Fittingly, Alan Turing was British (just as Alfred Nobel was Swedish). It would also serve as a vindication of Turing's honor.

It's depressing and disgusting to see people still consider royalty and aristocracy as "one up". So much for freedom, liberal thinking and equality.

For sanity's sake, at least give a thought about all the colonial history and the fact that Alan Turing was convicted for homosexual activity[0] and branded a security risk by the same "crown" and then issued a farcical royal pardon[1] in 2012.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing#Conviction_for_inde...

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/royal-pardon-for-ww2-code... --> "Dr Alan Turing has been given a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen"

To be clear after having read several replies, I do not personally consider awards given by the aristocracy to be more prestigious. However, a lot of 'regular' people do.

The proposal above simply aims to leverage the brand recognition of the British Crown and its still considerable prestige among millions of people to bolster the award's position, since we're talking about competing with the Nobel. (If the Turing Award were in fact the Nobel Prize's equal, there would not be this many 'Computer Science's Nobel prize' used in the popular press.)

Current computer scientists of course do not really need this kind of endorsements, but if the aim is to attract more young bright minds to the field, it may help.

I am aware of the cause of Dr.Turing's death. It was not instigated by the British Crown, but by the government, which was prejudiced by the law of its time. The fact that there was effort to obtain the royal 'pardon' for him suggests that, at least in Britain, the monarch's prestige meant something.

In time, the award may well become prestigious enough that this is not useful anymore. Then, we could just ignore the tradition or even change the entity handing it out, perhaps to be an AI robot which passes the Turing test for the first time in history.

The Nobel prize is a Swedish (and Norwegian[1] award) so that makes sense.

The Turing award is organized by the ACM, an US-based non-profit. It has nothing to do with the UK, apart from being named by someone who was a hero for that country and then was persecuted until he committed suicide. He was only pardoned in 2013.

I think your idea is well intentioned but I'm not convinced it is appropriate.

[1] The Nobel Peace Prize of awarded by a Norwegian committee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Peace_Prize

Why should a monarch have anything to do with it? It would be good to see it be given out by someone who previously won the award, someone who has actually achieved something.

Why would the British royalty be a 'one up' compared to the Swedish one? ;)

Elizabeth II is the queen of 16 countries. Carl XVI Gustav is king of one.

He is king of the one which gives out the Nobel Prize though. It's kind of relevant, isn't it?

I don't think that would be appropriate for symbolic reasons related to his cause of death.

In my opinion, the award carrying Turing's name gives it a level of prestige greater than what royalty could provide.

I really wish we could come up with "community awards" where certain people with certain accomplishment could pool in their own money to honor a researcher who is otherwise not so much known in main stream media. For example Steve Jobs is a well known name but Denis Richie isn't.

> Steve Jobs is a well known name but Denis Richie isn't.

Oh, the irony.

Not really - Steve Jobs sold devices to hundreds of millions of people, helped spin off possibly -the- premium movie studio, and regularly appeared on stage in high profile events watched by millions.

Also had an easier name to spell.

> Not really - Steve Jobs sold devices to hundreds of millions of people, helped spin off possibly -the- premium movie studio, and regularly appeared on stage in high profile events watched by millions.

I agree, but this was not my point.

> Also had an easier name to spell.

This was.

Ah, my apologies, didn't occur to me.

Two spelling errors was a pretty good giveaway.

Dennis Ritchie.

Maybe like the awesome foundation? http://www.awesomefoundation.org/

There used to be community credit awards. I once received one when I was younger, it was a lovely idea.

FTFY: "Stephen Job"

> Steven Jobs


Props to Google for stepping up where Intel left off.

Sounds like a good way for Google to find some big-name (post-award), PR-worthy, highly-qualified new employees.

These awards are given to well-known people fairly late in their careers, by design.

Ken Thompson had already invented UNIX and C when Google hired him.

Strange; I rarely think of the cash award with the Nobel prize.

What do YOU imagine would push the turing award closer to the nobel prize?

A big hunk of gold so you can tell stories like: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2014/10/10/...

I was expecting the amazing story of Niels Bohr dissolving Nobel prize medals in acid to hide them from the Nazis: http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/10/03/140815154/disso...

Me too, but I realize there are more things necessary to that story that we'd really rather not introduce for the sake of the story...

That is a good story!

Beyond the hunk of gold, they could also have the king of Sweden hand you the hunk of gold. I think that's a good touch.

Why gold when we have BitCoin? :)

Well a Nobel prize is awarded for the significance of the breakthrough, and the Turing award is more for the significance of the person. I think it would be good to have an award in computer science that celebrated and validated breakthroughs (though it doesn't have to be the Turing award).

Prestige, which you can only partially buy.

Absolutely prestige.

If one of the wealthiest people in the world won a Nobel prize, nobody would say "billionaire and $1M prize winner, et cetera".

Call it a Nobel prize.

Well, it worked for the economists, more or less.

The "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel" is almost invariably called the "Nobel Prize in Economics", even though it's a separate deal that didn't exist until 1969.

Compare what this is costing google to what an advertisement on the Superbowl costs (much much more).

Google will get a tremendous amount of valuable publicity for their $1,000,000 per year. It's a bargain regardless of anything else that will come out of doing this.

also bargain in attracting some of the best AI scientists to work on Search, machine learning, [X], etc projects of its own.

If this is a recruitment move, it's weak. It's more about the brand PR, I suspect.

Or just because someone felt like it. It is probably not enough money to waste a lot time thinking about it.

If I have google or Microsoft type money, I would setup Nobel price like $$$ for multiple developers who makes significant contributions to open source projects every year.

If google recognizes you as an open source contributor who does something significant, you get couple hundred $$$ worth of credit in their store (I wish I were joking)

Computer/software industrial is big and rich enough to have our own Nobel type Award for significant contributors to the Art, Design and Science of Computer/Software.

Good PR, karma, ego boost for everyone work in the fields.

Like "Academy of motion picture arts and sciences" - "Academy of Computer Sciences, Software and Design" All winners get A Golden Keyboard and $1 million real cash.

If I have choice, I would like to nominate:

    "Dennis Ritchie" - inventor of C language.   
    "Bill Joy" inventor of gdb.
    "Guido van Rossum" inventor of Python
    "Brendan Eich" inventor of Javascript. 
    "AT&T System V" 

Note that Dennis Ritchie already received the Turing award in 1983 for inventing and writing UNIX.

In fact, more than half of the Turing awards are for practical inventions and software: work on programming languages and compilers, TCP/IP, operating systems, relational databases. And even many of awarded "theoretical" achievements had working software that demonstrated or automated the maths parts.

I'm not arguing against an "Art and Design" award - but just noting that the Turing award is not that far off, it covers Computer Science contributions much more widely than just proving CS maths theorems.

My feeling is that the price should be split into two pieces: computer science and cryptography. However great to see the price raised to 1M.

An odd set of areas for a prize for math.

Does that mean you get it before you achieve something?

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