The Debate That Changed Programming: A Living History

Georgia Tech’s College of Computing Presents:

The Debate that Changed Programming:  A Living History of Computing’s Famous Collaboration

Moderated by Harry R. Lewis of Harvard University

Thursday, June 17, 2021 | 7 – 8:30 PM ET | LIVE WEBCAST

A quarter century into the modern era of computing, two young assistant professors joined forces with the legendary Alan Perlis, one of the founding fathers of American computer science, and would publish a paper challenging the conventional wisdom that computer programming should be formal and mathematical. It was a shot across the bow to Edsgar Dijkstra, Tony Hoare and many others who sought the certainty of mathematical proofs of software correctness. The paper would become a lightning rod for a debate that would continue for the better part of four decades. It moved federal funding patterns and was the backdrop for dramatic showdowns between formalists and pragmatists.

Twenty years later, those same assistant professors ended up in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech to continue their lifelong collaboration. One of them, W. Storey Professor of Computing Richard “Dick” Lipton was the first Georgia Tech computer scientist elected to the National Academy of Engineering. The other was Richard “Rich” DeMillo, who left his position as Chief Technology Officer at Hewlett-Packard to become the John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of Computing.

Their seminal 1979 work, “Social Processes and Proofs of Theorems and Programs,” is now part of a new collection of 46 classic papers in computer science published as a book this year from the MIT Press. Ideas That Created the Future by Harvard Professor Harry Lewis spans the intellectual birth and growth of the field – from Leibnitz and Boole to Knuth and RSA – and covers the sweeping discoveries and advancements that have come to define computer science. As Lewis points out in his introductory essay, “The fact that some computer scientists still bristle when this paper is mentioned is testament to its dialectic force.”

The College of Computing at Georgia Tech invites you to take part in a historical conversation between Rich DeMillo and Dick Lipton, two pioneers in computer science who helped shape a field that has come to reshape how we live every day.

Join the virtual fireside chat, Thursday, June 17, 2021, at 7 PM ET, for this living history – as told by the men who lived it – and hear about the experiences and their roles in this turning point in computer science.


Image Credits: Kathy Pham; public domain

Harry R. Lewis is Gordon McKay Research Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University. Now retired but still teaching, he also served Harvard as Dean of Harvard College and as interim Dean of Harvard’s Engineering School. He is a member of Harvard’s Theory of Computation group, and of the board of directors of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Lewis is editor of the recently published book Ideas That Created the Future (MIT Press, 2020), which collects forty-six classic papers in computer science that map the evolution of the field, with a context-setting introduction to each.

Living History Speakers:

Richard DeMillo is the Charlotte B. and Roger C. Warren Chair of Computer Science and Professor of Management at Georgia Tech. He founded the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) and was named a Lumina Foundation Inaugural Fellow in recognition of his work in higher education and C21U. He previously served as Hewlett-Packards’s first Chief Technology Officer, directed the Computer and Computation Research Division of the National Science Foundation and was the John P. Imlay Dean of Computing. He is currently chair for the new School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at Georgia Tech. 

Richard Lipton, a long-time member of the National Academy of Engineering, has held tenured faculty appointments at Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Princeton University before joining the faculty in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. For his startlingly original work, often spanning distant parts of the field, he was awarded the 2014 Knuth Prize. He is also a member of AAAS and was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1981 and a fellow of the ACM in 1997. He has had 17 graduate students and 142 academic descendants.