Linus Torvalds named a finalist for Millennium Technology Prize

Linux kernel creator and co-laureate Shinya Yamanaka join exclusive list of honorees

The Technology Academy of Finland announced Thursday that Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds is one of two laureates for the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize, in recognition of his contributions to the open-source software world.

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"Linus Torvalds' achievements have had a great impact on shared software development, networking and the openness of the web, making it accessible for millions, if not billions," the academy said in a statement.

Japanese medical researcher Shinya Yamanaka was named Torvalds' co-laureate for his work on creating pluripotent stem cells for use in future studies. The two are competing for the lion's share of a prize pool worth in excess of $1.3 million.

This winner will be announced in mid-June at a ceremony in Helsinki, as part of a larger Millennium Technology Week event featuring lectures and a 10th anniversary celebration.

The prize is given out every two years to those adjudged by the academy to have contributed to significant improvements in the quality of human life. Candidates working in any technological field can be considered.

"I hope this announcement will lead to added recognition for these extraordinary scientists and the technologies that they have developed. These two men may well be talked about for centuries to come," said Dr. Ainomaija Haarla, the academy's president.

Torvalds or Yamanaka will join an illustrious and exclusive group of previous winners, including biotechnology and consumer electronics experts, along with none other than Tim Berners-Lee, widely acknowledged as the father of the World Wide Web.

Torvalds’ reaction

“I think that it has largely been true that money hasn't ever played a primary role in my Linux development plans,” Torvalds says about his potential winnings, “but at the same time it is definitely true that while money hasn't been a guiding factor, I also have striven to not have to worry about a lack of it. And as such the prize is obviously very meaningful. I used to only half kiddingly tell my kids that I hope they don't all get accepted to Stanford University. Now if things turn out that way, I might not have to worry.”

He also admits that his own Finnish heritage makes the possibility of winning the Millennium Technology Prize particularly sweet – though it’s also created an unexpected problem, he says.

“It is really surprisingly hard to write emails in Finnish and Swedish when all my writing has been in English for the last two decades really. So even though I speak Swedish at home with the wife and kids (both me and my wife come from the small Swedish-speaking minority population in Finland), actually writing emails in it about my work was much harder than expected.”

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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