The Turing Award is an annual prize given by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) “for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community.” It is sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize” in Computing. Currently, the prize is 1 million dollars with funding provided by Google.
The 2014 Turing Award – announced just three weeks ago on March 25, 2015 – was given to Michael Stonebraker, who earned the award for “fundamental contributions to database systems, which are one of the critical applications of computers today.” So I decided to take a look at what other Turing Awards were given for databases in the award’s 50 year history.
As I said, the latest 2014 Turing Award was given to Michael Stonebraker, one of the founding fathers of modern databases. Michael Stonebraker was a leader of the Ingres project which was, together with IBM’s System R, a first working implementation of relational databases. The project proved that it’s possible to create an efficient, working implementation of relational databases. Many of the ideas introduced in Ingres are still used by modern databases, for example the query rewrite approach to views and integrity constraints, or the idea of using triggers for integrity checking. Later Michael Stonebraker focused on a “Post-Ingres” effort, in a project which was named POSTGRES. The POSTGRES project was a predecessor of the PostgreSQL database as we know it today.
The previous Turing Award winner in databases was James Gray in 1998. He got the award for “seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation.” In simple words: this is the guy who came up with the ACID properties for transactions and did a lot of research on how to implement these properties in database systems. Many of his ideas are still in use in modern databases. Interestingly, James Gray worked in System R, the other predecessor of modern databases.
Next in line is Edgar F. Codd who received the Turing Award in 1981. Codd is the real father of relational databases. He is the person who came up with the idea of using relations to store data. He invented databases with tables and columns as we know them today. This seems a simple idea now, but Codd had to fight for his ideas to be recognized and appreciated. He invented a relational model when he was working for IBM but initially IBM refused to implement a database based on Codd’s ideas. In fact, this is why Codd was allowed to publish his historic article “A relational model of data for large shared data banks.” One of the normal forms, the Boyce-Codd normal form, is named after him. He also proved the famous Codd’s theorem stating that relational algebra (which is the theoretical equivalent to the 1970s’ SQL) is equivalent to first-order logic.
Finally, the first Turing Award in databases was given to Charles Bachman in 1973. This was the time when Codd’s relational databases were coming into existence, when the Ingres and System R projects were just about to begin. What was Charles Bachman recognized for? He was the creator of the Integrated Data Store (IDS), a high performance database developed in the 1960s. The IDS was based on a network model, also invented by Bachman. The IDS provided a separation of the Data Manipulation Language used by database programmers and how the data are organized internally by the database, something we take for granted in modern databases. He also devised a diagramming technique which can be seen as a predecessor of current database diagrams.
If you look at the dates (1973, 1981, 1998, 2014), you will see that the Turing Award in databases is given roughly every 16 years. If this trend continues, the next database Turing Award will be handed around 2030. Do you have any ideas that might get the award and, most importantly, for what?