Whirlwind tour of computing and telecom's top honors, awards and prizes

From the Nobel to the Marconi: Internet, Ethernet, security and other IT/telecom pioneers get their recognition

Medals, ribbons, plaques and prize money from regional, national and international organizations have been honoring information technology, computing and telecom's most innovative people for years (See: " Gold medals, knighthood and $1 million cash prizes: Being a tech pioneer is a real honor "). Here's a look at the top awards, and some of the winners. For a timeline of 2011's awards, click here .

Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the United States' highest civilian honor, and according to the White House is "presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." Those endeavors include technological breakthroughs, though often more than a dozen medals awarded each year, few are given to tech luminaries (however, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, also presented by the President of U.S., directly recognizes tech leaders). The Presidential Medal was established by President John Kennedy in 1963 and followed the similarly named Medal of Freedom established by President Harry Truman in 1945.

Presidential Medal of Freedom winners from the tech industry. Winners have included IBM President Thomas Watson, Jr. (1964), HP Co-founder David Packard (1988), Intel Co-founder Gordon Moore (2002), and Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf (2005) and Robert Kahn (2005), shown here with former President George W. Bush..

National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Established in 1980 by the U.S. Congress and first given in 1985, the medal is awarded by the President of the United States "to individuals, teams, and companies for achievement in the innovation, development, commercialization and management of technology." The award was originally called the Medal of Technology, but the name was changed in 2007. The medal program is administered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at the Department of Commerce.

National Medal of Technology/National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners. Winners for these medals and the National Medal of Science are listed here . Winners have included Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs (1985), IBM System/360 developers Fred Brooks, Erich Bloch and Bob Evans (1985),  Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (1992), Digital Equipment Corp. Co-Founder Kenneth Olsen (1993), Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe (2003) and video game console creator Ralph Baer (2004), shown here with former President George W. Bush..

Nobel Prizes. There technically is no Nobel Prize in Computing because Alfred Nobel did not designate that there be one in his will, which followed his death in 1896, a tad before the computer industry took off. However, there is room for consideration of high-tech innovators for awards such as the Nobel Prize in Physics and Noble Peace Prize, which come with a $1.6 million cash prize in 2011.

Nobel Prize in Physics. Perhaps the most direct recognition of a tech/telecom innovator by the Nobel Foundation was 2009's awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics to Charles Kao , called by some the Father of Fiber-optic Communications.

A.M. Turing Award. Sometimes called the Nobel Prize in Computing, this award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) annually recognizes "an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community. The contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field." The award, first given in 1966, also comes with a $250,000 award funded by Google and Intel. The Turing Award is the highest honor bestowed by ACM, though its other prizes include the Infosys Foundation Award in the Computing Sciences, which recognizes "personal contributions by young scientists and system developers to a contemporary innovation that, through its depth, fundamental impact and broad implications, exemplifies the greatest achievements in the discipline."

A.M. Turing Award winners. Award winners might not include a lot of household names among those following the IT and telecom industry, but their discoveries and innovations have had a huge impact nonetheless. Among those winners you might be familiar with: Unix pioneers Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (1983); RSA public key cryptographers  Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman (2002); and Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn (2004). As with many tech awards, men have dominated, though women such as MIT's Barbara Liskov and IBM Fellow Frances Allen (shown here) have also won the Turing Award. 2010's winner, a man named Leslie Valiant who is a Harvard University computer scientist, has influenced through his work everything from artificial intelligence to distributed computing.

IEEE Medal of Honor. Established in 1917, this highest of the IEEE's dozen of annual medals and awards "is presented when a candidate is identified as having made a particular contribution which forms a clearly exceptional addition to the science and technology of concern to IEEE." The award consists of a gold medal, a bronze replica, a certificate and honorarium. One award is given each year, though several years no award was been given. Other significant IEEE awards include the Richard W. Hamming Medal for "exceptional contributions to information sciences, systems and technology," the Alexander Graham Bell Medal for "exceptional contributions to the advancement of communications sciences and engineering," the IEEE John von Neumann Medal for outstanding achievements in computer-related science and technology and the Grace Murray Hopper Award for "the outstanding young computer professional of the year" – an award captured by Ethenet inventor Bob Metcalfe, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and spreadsheet creator Dan Bricklin.

IEEE Medal of Honor winners. The winners (see full list )  include Intel big shots Gordon Moore (2008) and Andy Grove (2000),  Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe (1996) and Mos Joel of AT&T Bell Labs for his work on telecommunications switching (1992). Others have been recognized for advances in everything from radio waves to mathematical theory to DRAM. Shown here is 2010 winner Andrew Viterbi, the Qualcomm co-founder whose technical achievements have advanced everything from Wi-Fi to 3G cellular to satellite communications (on his left is IEEE President Moshe Kam and on his right, 2010 IEEE President Pedro Ray).

IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. Established in 1976, 100 years after Graham Bell's telephone invention, this award recognizes "exceptional contributions to the advancement of communications sciences and engineering." Winners have included Father of DSL John Cioffi (2010), packet switching pioneer Paul Baran (1990) and Qualcomm Co-founder Irwin Jacobs. The oft-recognized Robert Metcalfe (1988), and Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn (1997) have also earned this medal.

Marconi Prize. The Marconi Society's annual $100,000 award is presented "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 first Marconi Prize was awarded in 1975. In 2008, the Marconi Society also established a Young Scholars Award to recognize individuals whose work puts them on a trajectory to win a Marconi Prize some day

Marconi Prize winners. Winners have ranged from Internet creators like Vinton Cerf, Leonard Kleinrock and Robert Kahn to science fiction author/futurists Arthur C. Clarke to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Shown here is the late packet switching developer Paul Baran (center), who won the award in 1991.

Millennium Technology Prize. Touted by Technology Academy Finland as "the world's largest technology prize"  – that refers to the $1 million or so monetary award that comes with the trophy, dubbed "Peak," which symbolizes "the highest knowledge and the highest technology." The award is given every two years and is Finland's "tribute to life-enhancing technological innovations." Technology Academy Finland is an independent fund established by Finnish industry and the Finnish state.

Millennium Technology Prize winners. The most IT-relevant winner of the prize, which was first awarded in 2004, is Worldwide Web mastermind Tim Berners-Lee , who recently described Web access as "a human right ." Other winners have made breakthroughs in biomaterials for controlled drug release, development of solar cells and creation of new light sources. The award is presented by the president of Finland.

National Academy of Engineering Awards. The NAE "dedicates more than $1 million annually to recognize leaders in engineering for their lifetime dedication to their field and their commitment to advancing the human condition and to bring better understanding of the importance of engineering and engineering education to society." Major awards include the $500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize, which since 1989 has been honoring "an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably, and/or permitting the access to information." And yes, the NAE has been known to dub the Draper Prize, which includes a 3-inch, 14K gold medal, as the "Nobel Prize in Engineering."

National Academy of Engineering Award winners. Draper Prize winners have included many of the likely suspects: the Web's Tim Berners-Lee (2007), Internet pioneers (shown here) Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock and Larry Roberts (2001), and networked computer visionaries Alan Kay, Butler Lampson, Robert Taylor and Charles Thacker (2004)

National Science Board's Vannevar Bush Award. Established in 1980, this annual bronze medal honors the memory of Dr. Bush, who served as a science adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, helped to establish federal funding for science and engineering as a national priority during peacetime, and was behind the creation of the National Science Foundation. The award "recognizes an individual who, through public service activities in science and technology, has made an outstanding contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the Nation." Vannevar Bush Award winners. Recipients have included HP co-founder CMU computer science and robotics professor  Raj Reddy (2006), David Packard (1987) and Bell Labs' William Baker (1981).

Franklin Institute Awards. The Philadelphia museum named after Benjamin Franklin has been issuing awards since 1824  "to identify individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened our understanding of the universe." Among its awards are the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science (which packs a $250,000 prize) and the Bower Award for Business Leadership.

Franklin Institute Award winners. Benjamin Franklin Medal winners have included computer mouse creator Douglas Engelbart (1999) and Andrew Viterbi, whose Viterbi Algorithm has been instrumental in the development of wireless and space communications systems, including cellular systems. Bower Award for Business Leadership winners among tech leaders have included Microsoft's Bill Gates (2010), HP's David Packard (1995/1996), Intel's Gordon Moore (2002) and Qualcomm's Irwin Jacobs (2001), and Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science winners include packet switching innovator Paul Baran (2001). Other laureates whose work you might be familiar with: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.

Kyoto Prize. The Inamori Foundation's annual  international awards, established in 1984, honor "those who have contributed significantly to humankind's scientific, cultural, and spiritual development."  More specifically, prizes are awarded in the categories of Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy. The prize itself consists of the academic honor, a gold medal and a roughly $500,000 cash gift. Kyoto Prize winners in the Basic Sciences category have included computer scientists Alan Kay and Richard Karp, and 2010's winner in the Advanced Technology category was Laszlo Lovasz, a Hungarian-born computer scientist whose work has resulted in tools for simulating how large-scale networks work (See all winners here .)

Japan Prize. Established in 1985, the prize "honors individuals whose original and outstanding achievements in science and technology are recognized as having advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for mankind." It consists of a certificate, medal and cash award of around $600,000. Winners have included Internet inventors Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn (2008), Web creator Tim Berners-Lee (2002) and Kenneth Thompson/Dennis Ritchie for writing Unix (2011).

ITU World Telecommunication and Information Society Award. 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 ." The award is given each May 17, the day that marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union. Winners have included President of Finland Tarja Halonen, Internet pioneer and head of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives Robert Kahn (2010) and the Mozilla Corp. (2007).

Electronic Freedom Foundation Pioneer Award. Established in 1992 to "recognize leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology." Winners have included many of the usual suspects, such as Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe (1996) and packet switching pioneer Paul Baran (1993), but also Linux hero Linus Torvalds, Pamela Jones (creator of Groklaw) and Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru, a security researcher in India.

National Inventors Hall of Fame . Founded in 1973, the hall is located on  by the campus of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (from 1995-2009, it was based in Akron, Ohio). The not-for-profit hall "honors the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible. The organization seeks to give these outstanding individuals the recognition they so rightly deserve as well as inspire future generations of innovators through the light of their examples." To be eligible for the hall, inventors must hold a U.S. patent and their invention "must have contributed to the welfare of mankind and have promoted the progress of science and the useful arts."

National Inventors Hall of Fame winners. This hall isn't all about computers and telecom. Among the 460 inductees as of 2011 are inventors of everything from margarine to windshield wipers to the Philips screw. This year's inductees included security giants Whitfield Diffie (shown here giving acceptance speech), Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle, and past techies inducted include Alexander Graham Bell, packet switching pioneer Paul Baran, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Internet creators Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn.

Computer History Museum Hall of Fellows. The museum, which re-opened in 2011 after a six-month renovation with a major retrospective on the history of computing , features its Hall of Fellows as a wall of framed photographs of the industry's greatest contributors. Fellows are given a trophy and feted at a dinner gala. The first Fellow, compiler creator Grace Murray Hopper, was named in 1987. According to the museum: "Chosen on the basis of accomplishment, Fellows are nominated by the Museum's community and selected by a panel composed of Museum staff, historians, industry leaders, and other Computer History Museum Fellows. Sufficient time must have elapsed between a specific contribution and an individual's nomination in order to properly assess the historical importance of his/her achievements. No preference is given to accomplishments in software or hardware, to computer science over electrical engineering or any other formal discipline, to commercial success, or to the nominee's age."

Computer History Museum Hall of Fellows inductees. The Hall features more than 50 fellows, including 2011 inductees Bill Joy (seen here), for his work on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) Unix system and for co-founding Sun, and the public key cryptography pioneers Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle.

Academy of Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Technical Awards. The geeks behind the movies are annually recognized at a ceremony held a couple of weeks before the more familiar Academy Awards ceremony. Winners in 2011 included those recognized for such achievements as developing "software systems culminating in the Rush render queue management system" and "development of the Cablecam 3-D volumetric suspended cable camera technologies." Actress Marisa Tomei hosted the 2011 ceremony. And as for the Academy Awards themselves, "The Social Network" movie about the rise of Facebook won a few Oscars in 2011.

Honorary knighthood: Commander of the Order of the Royal Empire. The one-time king of computer software, Bill Gates, received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 for his business skills and fight against poverty, though as an American citizen, Gates can't use the title "Sir". Not so for the London-born Sir Timothy Berners-Lee of Worldwide Wide fame, who was knighted in 2004 for  "services to the global development of the Internet."

Honorary degrees. Dozens of honorary degrees have been bestowed upon technology's biggest names, some to individuals for achievements and others no doubt in part for their companies' generous endowments of research centers and the like at big universities and colleges. Famous Harvard University dropout Bill Gates circled back and picked up an honorary degree from the school in 2007 while speaking at the commencement ceremony . Others with honorary degrees include Cisco CEO John Chambers, who received one from Duke University, where he delivered the 2011 commencement address. Apple's Steve jobs was given an honorary degree from Stanford University, where he gave a commencement speech in 2005 .

Other prize-related stories:

Why there's no Nobel Prize in Computing

Web, Internet inventors have cleaned up on awards

Gold medals, knighthood and $1M cash prizes: Being a tech pioneer is a real honor

The year in technology awards: 2011 timeline