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Microsoft researcher wins prestigious computing award

Leslie Lamport recipient of this year's A.M. Turing Award

Leslie Lamport, a principal researcher working at Microsoft Research's Silicon Valley lab in Mountain View, has been awarded the 2013 A.M. Turing Award, a prestigious technical award often referred to as the Nobel Prize of the computing world.

Lamport, 73, will receive a $250,000 prize for "imposing clear, well-defined coherence on the seemingly chaotic behavior of distributed computing systems, in which several autonomous computers communicate with each other by passing messages," the award website reads. "He devised important algorithms and developed formal modeling and verification protocols that improve the quality of real distributed systems. These contributions have resulted in improved correctness, performance, and reliability of computer systems."

His development of various algorithms and computing tools were also cited, including ones relating to security, cloud computing, embedded systems and database systems. He contributed to Byzantine Fault Tolerance, a tool to defend against "Byzantine failures," or when a system fails in arbitrary, unpredictable ways. He also created TLA+, a language for writing Temporal Logic of Actions (TLA) applications, used by hardware and software engineers, as well as LaTeX, a document preparation system and document markup language that is the standard for publishing scientific or computing documents.

The award, created in 1966 by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), is named after Alan Mathison Turing, a 20th century British mathematician and computer scientist known for making critical advances in those fields.

A Microsoft release on the selection calls a paper Lamport wrote in 1978, "Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System," "one of the most cited in the history of computer science."

"This is well-deserved recognition for a remarkable scientist," Microsoft CEO Bill Gates said in the release. "As a leader in defining many of the key concepts of distributed computing that enable today's mission-critical computer systems, Leslie has done great things not just for the field of computer science, but also in helping make the world a safer place. Countless people around the world benefit from his work without ever hearing his name."

Lamport's career included positions at SRI International and Digital Equipment Corporation (later Compaq Corporation) before he came to Microsoft in 2001. He's also authored or co-authored nearly 150 publications on concurrent and distributed computing and their applications and received many prestigious awards. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. degree in mathematics in 1960 and went on to Brandeis University to attain his master's and Ph.D, both also in mathematics.

"The Internet is based on distributed-systems technology, which is, in turn, based on a theoretical foundation invented by Leslie," Bob Taylor, founder and manager of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and then founder and manager of Digital Equipment Corp.'s Systems Research Center, said in the release. "So if you enjoy using the Internet, then you owe Leslie."

Lamport is the fifth scientist from Microsoft Research to win the Turing Award. The others are Chuck Thacker (2009), Jim Gray (1998), Butler Lampson (1992) and Tony Hoare (1980).

ACM will officially present Lamport with the award at an annual banquet on June 21 in San Francisco.

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