2011 timeline of major high tech awards: Cryptographers, Unix pioneers lead the way

Public key cryptography's Diffie, Hellman and Merkle enter two halls of fame

The public key encryption scheme developed by Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman in the mid-1970s - and influenced by the work of Ralph Merkle - has now made them all pretty darn famous some three-plus decades later: All three have been inducted in 2011 into the Computer History Museum Hall of Fellows and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

It's also been a good year for Unix pioneers: Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson split the $600,000 Japan Prize in information and communications, while Sun co-founder and BSD Unix pioneer Bill Joy gained entry into the Computer History Museum Hall of Fellows.

See interactive timeline

These are among the notable 2011 honors in the IT/computing/telecom field to be awarded so far, and more is to come (Note: some "2011" awards were announced in late 2010). Here's a rundown:

November 2010: Franklin Institute Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computing and Cognitive Science. Carnegie Mellon University professor of psychology and computer science John Anderson won the 2011 award for the development of the first large-scale computational theory of the process by which humans perceive, learn and reason, and its application to computer tutoring systems. Awards were presented in April. 

December 2010: IEEE Medal of Honor and Alexander Graham Bell Medal. The IEEE Medal of Honor winner is Morris Chang, founding chairman and CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. "He greatly influenced industry business models and was a key contributor to Texas Instruments' rise as the leading integrated circuit company in the world," according to the IEEE. The Graham Bell Medal, "For exceptional contributions to the advancement of communications sciences and engineering," goes to Stanford University professor emeritus Paulraj Arogyaswami for "pioneering contributions to the application of multiantenna technology to wireless communications systems." More info.

January 2011: Japan Prize. Dennis Ritchie, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Emeritus, Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent, and Ken Thompson, Distinguished Engineer, Google, were honored with the 2011 Japan Prize in information and communications for developing Unix in 1969 while researchers at Bell Labs. The Japan Prize Foundation awards prizes annually to scientists and researchers who, regardless of nationality, made substantial contributions to their field and to the world.

March 2011: National Inventors Hall of Fame: Living inductees in the IT field included public key cryptography pioneers Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle; Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, for their work on the optically scanned barcode. Historical inductees included Alexander Graham Bell cohort Thomas Watson, for improvements to the telephone. More info. 

March 2011: A.M. Turing Award. Leslie Valiant, a versatile computer scientist at Harvard University whose work has impacted everything from artificial intelligence to distributed computing, has been named the winner of the 2010 A.M. Turing Award (the 2010 award is announced in 2011).

The annual Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) award, sometimes called the "Nobel Prize in Computing," recognizes Valiant for his broad contributions to computational learning theory and computer science. The award comes with a $250,000 prize funded by Google and Intel.

March 2011: Computer History Museum Fellow Awards. 2011 Hall of Fellows inductees are Bill Joy for his work on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) Unix system and the co-founding of Sun; and the Team of Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle for their work on public key cryptography. This award recognizes each Fellow's role in the advancement of computing history, as well as the impact of their contributions. More info. 

April 2011: IEEE Computer Society Awards. VMware co-founders Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum recieved the 2011 Computer Entrepreneur Award "for creating a virtualization platform that profoundly revolutionized modern computing" and Ian Foster, a professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and a distinguished fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, won the 2011 Tsutomu Kanai Award "for pioneering research in grid computing, integrating geographically distributed instruments, computers, and data" (Network World has frequently written about Foster's grid computing efforts, including the Globus Project and a company called Univa.). Separately, Father of Parallel Processing David Kuck earned the Computer Pioneer Award, and Ian Akyildiz, a telecom professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and director of Georgia Tech's Broadband and Wireless Networking Laboratory, snagged the 2011 W. Wallace McDowell Award, "for pioneering contributions to wireless sensor network architectures and communication protocols". Find the full list of Computer Society Awards here.

May 2011: World Telecommunication and Information Society Award. The 2011 award was presented in Geneva to: President Tarja Halonen of Finland; telecommunication innovator Sam Pitroda, who is currently adviser to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations; and CEO and co-founder of Inveneo Kristin Peterson. This honor - a trophy and citation -- has been bestowed annually since 2006 to "eminent personalities who have contributed to connecting rural communities to the benefits of ICTs." More info. 

June 2011: Marconi Prize. 2011 winners are Qualcomm co-founder and cellular communications pioneer Irwin Jacobs and the recently deceased Jack Wolf, a University of California San Diego professor whose important engineering work and information theories contributed to everything from the design of hard disks to cell phones. Also, Bob Galvin, the son of Motorola founder Paul Galvin and the company's CEO from 1959 to 1986, was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement award. "The Marconi Prize is awarded annually to individuals whose scope of work and influence carry on the legacy of Guglielmo Marconi, recipient of the 1909 Nobel Prize for his pioneering achievements in wireless technology. The Marconi Society recognizes its Fellows for their lasting scientific contributions to human progress in the field of information technology." More info.

June 2011: Wireless Hall of Fame. The Wireless History Foundation named 4 inductees into its Hall of Fame, and they will be feted at a dinner in San Diego in October. The inductees: Nick Kauser, former CTOof four major wireless carriers including Rogers Cantel, McCaw Cellular Communications, AT&T Wireless Services and Clearwire, which he also co-founded. Kauser built the first nationwide network across both Canada and the United States. He led U.S. standards processes, aggressively explored new technologies, and laid the basis for nationwide automatic roaming; Robert Marino, former President and first employee of United TeleSpectrum (now Sprint), also former President of cellular companies including Compania de Radiocomunicaciones Moviles (Buenos Aires), Houston Cellular Telephone Company (now part of AT&T Mobility), and the Northeast Region of Nextel Communications (now Sprint). Marino moved from the carrier side to industry services as Group President of Convergys Information Management Group; Clayton Niles, radio telecommunications pioneer and former chairman of Communications Industries (acquired by Pacific Telesis Group). He played a critical role in securing interconnection for the radio common carrier (RCC) industry and in convincing the FCC to open cellular applications to RCCs, as well as telephone companies; Arnold Pohs (posthumously), former chairman and CEO of CommNet Cellular (acquired by AirTouch), former chairman of the CTIA. Pohs was a strong advocate for rural wireless.

October 2011: Nobel Prize. There's no guarantee the Nobel Prize in Physics or the Noble Peace Prize will have anything to do with the information technology field. Then again, Father of Fiber Optics Charles Kao won the Physics Prize in 2009, and the Internet itself (along with Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn) is said to be in the running for this year's Peace Prize.

Here's when some other significant awards will be announced: Kyoto Prize (June 24), Internet Society Jonathan B. Postel Service Award (July), Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Awards (October). Other dates are fuzzier, but last year the Millennium Technology Prize was announced in September and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners were revealed in October.

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