John Backus has passed away

John Backus, inventor of FORTRAN, the BNF, and winner of the 1977 Turing Award, has passed away. New York Times has an obituary. I'm sure the more eloquent members of LtU will have much to say about him, so I'll just point out that his Turing Award lecture is an absolute classic, and seems to be more relevant than ever. My condolences to the Backus family and friends.

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corrected URL for Turing lecture

Small correction to the URL for Backus' Turing lecture:


Thanks, I've taken the liberty of correcting the post (and promoted it to the front page).

Thanks for the fixes!

Sorry for overlooking the link error.

Reminds me sadly

This reminds me sadly of a post linked to when Ralph Griswold died.

Computer Science has always been a discipline where the founders were still around. That’s changing.

Phil Windly

FORTRAN was my first

FORTRAN was the first programming language I learned. The NY Times obituary linked to in the topic is worth reading. Also see The Early History of Fortran.

My favorite comment (sic) about this came from reddit:


Ahead of his time

I'll remember Backus most of all for his Turing Award lecture. Most people with his status just coast and do the same old thing for the rest of their careers. Instead, he had the insight to realize that there was something fundamentally wrong with the programming languages of the time (including the ones he had worked on!), and he proposed a radically new paradigm which was a direct ancestor of today's functional programming languages. He was a very creative man, and he will be missed.


In honor of Backus I recommend watching the FORTRAN 25th anniversary film.

A grand old gentleman

I only met him once -- I was a young grad student, full of half-baked ideas, and he listened with all appearance of interest and encouragement for the bulk of a 15-minute coffee break at one of the early Lisp & functional programming conferences.

A class act.


Remembering John Backus

I got to know John Backus in the 1970s, when I worked with him for a time on functional programming (he called the language Red then). I've written down some of my recollections here.