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The Great Donald E. Knuth

Donald Knuth[1]

Note: This is a 5-minute speech script given on my English class.

Good morning, everybody! I am XXX, and you can call me Alex. I’m very honored to introduce you today one of the most respected and fruitful scholars in computer science: Donald E. Knuth. Interestingly, he also has a Chinese name: 高德纳.

Knuth was born on January 10, 1938 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was studying physics at Case Institute of Technology and then switched to mathematics. In 1960, he received his Bachelor of Science degree and at the same time received his Master of Science degree because of his excellent work. After 3 years, in 1963, he graduated from California Institute of Technology with a Ph.D degree in mathematics and began to work there as an associate professor.Now he has retired from Stanford University and concentrated on his 7-volumn book: The Art of Computer Programming, known as TAOCP, which I will talk about later on.

Knuth is considered the “father of algorithm analysis”. You all know what an algorithm means, do you? An algorithm is basically a way of doing a certain kind of things; in computer science, it means, taking the advantage of the speed of CPU, how your computer code or software solves problems, which will take a man much more time to do it. Knuth had received so many awards: John von Neumann Medal and Harvey Prize in 1995 and Kyoto Prize in 1996, and the “NuoBeiEr prize in computing”- Turing award in 1974 at the age of 36, for his contributions to the analysis of algorithms and the design of programming languages.

His Turing award was particularly for his life-long project: TAOCP – the 7 volume book which I have just mentioned. In fact, at the time he received the award, he had just finished the first 3 volumes. Volume 4 has just come out and the rest are in preparation. TAOCP is such a great serial book and soon became the “Shengjing” for computer programmers worldwide. Bill Gates once said, “If you think you’re a really good programmer… read (Knuth’s) Art of Computer Programming… You should definitely send me a résumé if you can read the whole thing.” Knuth is even more ambitious: he wanted his book to be something like Newton’s The Mathematical Principle of Natural Philosophy.

Not only does Knuth have so much theoretical achievements, he is also one of the best programmers. After he published his first 3 volumes of TAOCP, he thought his printed books look very bad. Then he decided to study typesetting and font. Eventually he developed his own computer typesetting system Tex which has become the best known typesetting system so far. One thing to add, Tex is open-source, which means everybody can use it free of charge or improve it at one’s own will.

Apart from writing the great serial TAOCP books and several public speeches a year, now he spends most of his time with his family. When asked about his unfinished masterpiece, he said:”The journey is more important than the destination—that’s part of life.” Then he added, “If I had been good at making estimates of how long something was going to take, I never would have started”.

[1] Image source: http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=33888

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