‘Nobel Prize for Computing’: Newly named Turing Award winners foretell a ‘new golden age’ for computer architecture at ISCA. And other conference highlights.


By Michael Martinez

Los Angeles, California — Turing Award winners John L. Hennessy, former president of Stanford University and now chair of Google parent Alphabet, and David A. Patterson, retired professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s now a Google Distinguished Engineer, heralded a new epoch in computing and declared that computer architecture is “on the cusp of another Golden Age.”

They advanced their vision when giving the Turing Lecture on June 4 before a record attendance of 790 people at International Symposium on Computer Architecture, the field’s premier forum for new ideas and research results.

Hennessy and Patterson were named as recipients last March of the 2017 Turing Award, often called the “Nobel Prize for Computing,” which carries a $1 million prize with financial support from Google.

John Hennessy (left), former Stanford president and now chair of Google parent Alphabet, and David Patterson, retired UC Berkeley professor and a Distinguished Engineer at Google. They pose with a bust of British mathematician Alan Turing, after whom the award is named, during the International Symposium on Computer Architecture where the two winners gave the Turing Lecture this week about a new golden age for architecture to a near filled ballroom of 900 people. The bust is owned by Google VP Luiz Barroso, one of eight Google scholars.

The new era for computer architecture “will significantly improve cost, performance, energy, and security,” according to Hennessy and Patterson.

Hennessy and Patterson won the Turing Award for their pioneering an approach to create the faster and lower power “reduced instruction set computer” (RISC) microprocessors, which constitute 99% of the 16 billion microprocessors found in nearly all smartphones, tablets, and Internet of Things devices. The award is named after British mathematician Alan M. Turing.

In their lecture entitled “A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture: Domain-Specific Hardware/Software Co-Design, Enhanced Security, Open Instruction Sets, and Agile Chip Development,” Hennessy and Patterson addressed several areas that are critical to the next epoch of architecture:

John L. Hennessy, former president of Stanford University and 2017 Turing Award co-winner.

Hardware/Software Co-Design for High-Level and Domain-Specific Languages: “Advanced programming languages like Python and domain-specific languages like TensorFlow have dramatically improved programmer productivity by increasing software reuse and by raising the level of abstraction,” the award winners said in an outline of their lecture.

Enhancing Security: “We’ve made tremendous gains in information technology (IT) in the past 40 years, but if security is a war, we’re losing it. Thus far, architects have been asked for little beyond page-level protection and supporting virtual machines. The very definition of computer architecture ignores timing, yet Spectre shows that attacks that can determine timing of operations can leak supposedly protected data. It’s time for architects to redefine computer architecture and treat security as a first class citizen to protect data from timing attacks, or at worst reduce information leaks to a trickle,” they said.David A. Patterson, retired Professor of the University of California, Berkeley, and 2017 Turing Award co-winner.

Free and Open Architectures and Open-Source Implementations: “Progress on these issues likely will require changes to the instruction set architecture (ISA), which is problematic for proprietary ISAs. For tall challenges like these, we want all the best minds to work on them, not only the engineers who work for the ISA owners,” they said.

Read how the term “computer architecture” originated and transformed the computing era

Agile Chip Development: “As the focus of innovation in architecture shifts from the general-purpose CPU to domain-specific and heterogeneous processors, we will need to achieve major breakthroughs in design time and cost (as happened for VLSI in the 1980s). Small teams should be able to design chips, tailored for a specific domain or application. This will require that hardware design become much more efficient, and more like modern software design,” they said.

A conference of firsts for African-Americans and women

ISCA draws leading figures in academia and industry. Keynote speakers included Doug Burger, Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft; Kim Hazelwood, a Senior Engineering Manager leading the AI Infrastructure Foundation efforts at Facebook; and Kunle Olukotun, the Cadence Design Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University who’s a pioneer in multicore processor design.

Olukotun is the first African-American keynote speaker at ISCA.

“This year’s ISCA conference was groundbreaking and historic in many ways, not the least of which was the arousing Turing Lecture by John and Dave which was open to the general public. Their authoritative perspective on key past developments in RISC architectures and their insightful look into new and emerging computer architectures on the horizon were inspiring to all who attended!” said Timothy Pinkston, vice dean for faculty affairs at University of Southern California‘s Viterbi School of Engineering and general co-chair of the conference.

Pinkston is the first African-American person to serve as an ISCA general chair. The conference’s “Bias Busting” workshop, addressing all aspects of implicit bias within the profession, was a first at a major technical conference.

Timothy Pinkston, vice dean for faculty affairs at University of Southern California‘s Viterbi School of Engineering and general co-chair of ISCA.

Timothy Pinkston, vice dean for faculty affairs at University of Southern California‘s Viterbi School of Engineering and general co-chair of ISCA, presides over one gathering.

Also, Susan Eggers, professor emerita at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, became the first woman to win the conference’s Eckert-Mauchly Award (more below in story).

The other general co-chair was Murali Annavaram, also a professor at UCS’s Viterbi School.

“ISCA  is a forward looking beacon where some of the ground breaking research in Computer Architecture is routinely published,” Annavaram said. “The presentation of  the Turing Award Lecture at ISCA is further evidence that our field has played a key role in transforming our society. We are honored to have hosted ISCA 2018 in Los Angeles for the first time ever. And our record breaking attendance from around the globe further cements the long and illustrious tradition of computer architecture research excellence of ISCA.”

This year’s conference broke corporate sponsorship records by more than three times the previous highest budget, allowing for a record 180-plus student travel grants, also supported by the National Science Foundation, ACM SIGARCH, and IEEE TCCA, the general chairs said in a message that appears in the conference proceedings.

See more ISCA photos here.

Hennessy and Patterson remained exuberant about the next era for computer architecture.

“We believe the deceleration of performance gains for standard microprocessors, the opportunities in high-level, domain-specific languages and security, the freeing of architects from the chains of proprietary ISAs, and (ironically) the ending of Dennard scaling and Moore’s law will lead to another Golden Age for architecture,” Hennessy and Patterson said in their summary.

“Aided by an open-source ecosystem, agily developed prototypes will demonstrate advances and thereby accelerate commercial adoption. We envision the same rapid improvement as in the last Golden Age, but this time in cost, energy, and security as well in performance,” they added. “What an exciting time to be a computer architect!”

More cooperation between hardware and software

Many attendees urged better cooperation between software and hardware teams, and one participant asked the two award winners how that could be accomplished.

Bust of Alan M. Turing

Bust of famed British mathematician, Alan Turing, after whom the Turing Award is named. (Turing was also the subject of the film “The Imitation Game,” which was nominated eight times and won Best Adapted Screenplay at the 87th Academy Awards.) The bust was loaned to the conference by Google Scholar and Google vice president of engineer Luiz Barroso.

“You tell them guys, we gave you a free ride for 20 years where you write crummy software and we make it work. That’s over,” Hennessy replied.

“The future is parallel. Single core isn’t getting faster,” Patterson added. “The free ride is over. The cavalry isn’t coming over the hill.


“If you want faster and low energy, this is the only path left,” Patterson said. He turned to Hennessy: “We’re right, right?”

“We’re never wrong,” Hennessy replied, to the amusement of the audience.

What’s it like to win the ‘Nobel Prize for Computing’?

In an interview with the IEEE Computer Society, Patterson and Hennessy agreed that the Turing Award has created more invitations for them to give talks around the world.

“It’s maybe a smaller version of winning the Nobel Prize,” Hennessy said.

“In the computing world, it’s the Nobel Prize,” Patterson said.

But they aren’t expecting any big career advancements.

“Our careers are pretty much shaped at this point. For us, it’s a capstone,” Hennessy said. “We know the people who won it before, and it feels good to be part of that group.”

“To be with that same august body, it’s kind of a touch of immortality,” Patterson added.

Highlights from the 45th International Symposium on Computer Architecture, ISCA 2018:

David A. Patterson, retired Professor of UC Berkeley, and 2017 Turing Award co-winner, delivers Turing lecture to a packed room. (Co-winner, John L. Hennessy, former president of Stanford University, also spoke.)

Ben Feinberg of the University of Rochester fields tough questions from the near filled gallery today during the International Symposium on Computer Architecture. He spoke about “Enabling Scientific Computing on Memristive Accelerators.Feinberg spoke about “Enabling Scientific Computing on Memristive Accelerators.”Audience members listen intently.

“It’s Charles Eckert’s birthday today, so go easy on the tough questions about his paper,” the moderator tells the crowd. Eckert, of the University of Michigan, talks about “Neural Cache: Bit-Serial In-Cache Acceleration of Deep Neural Networks.”

Gallery of winners at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture

Matt Sinclair of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (above, center) won honorable mention for  the 2018 ACM SIGARCH IEEE Computer Society TCCA Outstanding Dissertation Award.

Aasheesh Kolli of the University of Michigan (above, left) won the 2018 ACM SIGARCH IEEE Computer Society TCCA Outstanding Dissertation Award. His advisor (right) is associate professor Thomas Wenisch.

Reetuparna Das, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, won the Borg Early Career Award given by the Computing Research Association–Women, given to a woman in computer science and/or engineering who has made significant research contributions and who has contributed to her profession, especially in the outreach to women.

Susan Eggers, professor emerita at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, won the 2018 Eckert-Mauchly Award for her outstanding contributions to simultaneous multithreaded processor architectures and multiprocessor sharing and coherency. The award, which carries a $5,000 prize, is the computer architecture community’s highest honor. She is the first woman to receive the award.

Gabriel Loh, an Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Fellow, won the 2018 ACM SIGARCH Maurice Wilkes award for  his outstanding contributions to the advancement of die-stacked architectures. The award honors individuals who significantly influence the computer architecture industry.

Hadi Esmaeilzadeh, a professor and director of Alternative Computing Technologies (ACT) Lab at the University of California, San Diego, won the IEEE Computer Society Technical Committee on Computer Architecture’s Young Computer Architect Award.
Yuhao Zhu of the University of Texas, Austin receives honorable mention for “Energy-efficient mobile web computing.”