Donald Ervin Knuth (born 10 January 1938) is a renowned computer scientist and Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming at Stanford University.
Author of the seminal multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming ("TAOCP"), Knuth has been called the "father" of the analysis of algorithms, contributing to the development of, and systematizing formal mathematical techniques for, the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms, and in the process popularizing asymptotic notation.
In addition to fundamental contributions in several branches of theoretical computer science, Knuth is also the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, the related METAFONT font definition language and rendering system, and the Computer Modern family of typefaces.
A prolific writer and scholar, Knuth is also creator of the WEB/CWEB computer programming systems designed to encourage and facilitate literate programming, as well as designer of the MMIX instruction set architecture.
Education and academic work
Knuth was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
, where his father owned a small printing business and taught bookkeeping at Milwaukee Lutheran High School
, which he attended. He was an excellent student, earning achievement awards. He applied his intelligence in unconventional ways, winning a contest when he was in eighth grade by finding over 4,500 words that could be formed from the letters in "Ziegler's Giant Bar." This won him a television set for his school and a candy bar for everyone in his class.
Knuth had a difficult time choosing physics over music as his major at Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University). He then switched from physics to mathematics, and in 1960 he received his bachelor of science degree, simultaneously receiving his master of science degree by a special award of the faculty who considered his work outstanding. At Case, he managed the basketball team and applied his talents by constructing a formula for the value of each player. This novel approach was covered by Newsweek and by Walter Cronkite on the CBS television network.
While doing graduate studies, Knuth worked as a consultant, writing compilers for different computers. In 1963, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics (advisor: Marshall Hall) from the California Institute of Technology, where he became a professor and began work on The Art of Computer Programming, originally planned to be a single book, and then planned as a six, and then seven-volume series. In 1968, he published the first volume. That same year, he joined the faculty of Stanford University, having turned down a job offer from the NSA.
In 1971, Knuth was the recipient of the first ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. He has received various other awards including the Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the John von Neumann Medal and the Kyoto Prize. After producing the third volume of his series in 1976, he expressed such frustration with the nascent state of the then newly developed electronic publishing tools (esp. those which provided input to phototypesetters) that he took time out to work on typesetting and created the TeX and METAFONT tools.
In recognition of Knuth's contributions to the field of computer science, in 1990 he was awarded the singular academic title of Professor of The Art of Computer Programming, which has since been revised to Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming.
In 1992 he became an associate of the French Academy of Sciences. Also that year, he retired from regular research and teaching at Stanford University in order to finish The Art of Computer Programming. In 2003 he was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Society. As of 2004, the first three volumes of his series have been re-issued, and Knuth is currently working on volume four, excerpts of which are released periodically on his website. Meanwhile, Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he calls Computer Musings. He is also a visiting professor at the Oxford University Computing Laboratory in the United Kingdom.
In addition to his writings on computer science, Knuth, a devout Lutheran, is also the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (1991), ISBN 0-89579-252-4, in which he attempts to examine the Bible by a process of stratified sampling, namely an analysis of chapter 3, verse 16 of each book. Each verse is accompanied by a rendering in calligraphic art, contributed by a group of calligraphers under the leadership of Hermann Zapf.
He is also the author of Surreal Numbers (1974) ISBN 0-201-03812-9, a mathematical novelette on John Conway's set theory construction of an alternate system of numbers. Instead of simply explaining the subject, the book seeks to show the development of the mathematics. Knuth wanted the book to prepare students for doing original, creative research.
On January 1, 1990, Knuth announced to his colleagues that he would no longer have an email address, so that he may concentrate on his work. Knuth is a fan of Wikipedia, but he's a bit leery of the concept, saying that he would not want to have to remain forever on guard after making technically complex contributions, lest his comments be badly reedited.
In 2006, Knuth was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery in December that year and started "a little bit of radiation therapy [...] as a precaution but the prognosis looks pretty good," as he reported in his video autobiography.
Knuth is known for his professional humor
- He pays a finder’s fee of $2.56 for any typographical errors or mistakes discovered in his books, because “256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar”. (His bounty for errata in , is, however, $3.16). According to an article in MIT’s Technology Review, these reward checks are “among computerdom’s most prized trophies”.
- Version numbers of his TeX software approach the transcendental number π, that is versions increment in the style 3, 3.1, 3.14 and so on. Version numbers of Metafont approach the number e similarly.
- He once warned users of his software, “Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.”
- All appendices in the Computers and Typesetting series have titles that begin with the letter identifying the appendix.
- TAOCP v3 (Second Edition) has the index entry “Royalties, use of, 407”. Page 407 has no explicit mention of royalties, but however does contain a diagram of an “organ-pipe arrangement” in Figure 2. Apparently the purchase of the pipe organ in his home was financed by royalties from TAOCP. (In the first edition of the work, the relevant page is 405.)
- The preface of Concrete Mathematics includes the following anecdote: “When Knuth taught Concrete Mathematics at Stanford for the first time, he explained the somewhat strange title by saying that it was his attempt to teach a math course that was hard instead of soft. He announced that, contrary to the expectations of some of his colleagues, he was not going to teach the Theory of Aggregates, nor Stone’s Embedding Theorem, nor even the Stone-Čech compactification. (Several students from the civil engineering department got up and quietly left the room.)”
- Knuth published his first “scientific” article in a school magazine in 1957 under the title “Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures.” In it, he defined the fundamental unit of length as the thickness of MAD magazine #26, and named the fundamental unit of force “whatmeworry.” MAD magazine bought the article and published it in the #33 June 1957 issue.
- Knuth's first “mathematical” article was a short paper submitted to a “science talent search” contest for high-school seniors in 1955, and published in 1960, in which he discussed number systems where the radix was negative. He further generalized this to number systems where the radix was a complex number. In particular, he defined the quater-imaginary number system, which uses the imaginary number 2i as the base, having the unusual feature that every complex number can be represented with the digits 0, 1, 2, and 3, without a sign.
- Knuth’s article about computational complexity of songs was reprinted twice in computer science journals.
A short list of his works:
- Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Volumes 1–4, Addison-Wesley Professional
- Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms (3rd edition), 1997. Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 0-201-89683-4
- Volume 2: Seminumerical Algorithms (3rd Edition), 1997. Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 0-201-89684-2
- Volume 3: Sorting and Searching (2nd Edition), 1998. Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN 0-201-89685-0
- Volume 4: Combinatorial Algorithms, in preparation
- Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, fascicles:
- Volume 1, Fascicle 1: MMIX — A RISC Computer for the New Millennium, 2005. ISBN 0-201-85392-2
- Volume 4, Fascicle 0: Introduction to Combinatorial Algorithms and Boolean Functions. 2008. ISBN 0-321-53496-4
- Volume 4, Fascicle 1: in preparation.
- Volume 4, Fascicle 2: Generating All Tuples and Permutations, 2005. ISBN 0-201-85393-0
- Volume 4, Fascicle 3: Generating All Combinations and Partitions, 2005. ISBN 0-201-85394-9
- Volume 4, Fascicle 4: Generating All Trees -- History of Combinatorial Generation, 2006. ISBN 0-321-33570-8
- Donald E. Knuth, The TeXbook (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1984. ISBN 0-201-13448-9
- Donald E. Knuth, The METAFONTbook (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1986. ISBN 0-201-13444-6
- Ronald L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth, Oren Patashnik, Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science, 2nd edition (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley), 1994. ISBN 0-201-55802-5
- Selected papers series:
- Donald E. Knuth, Literate Programming (Center for the Study of Language and Information - Lecture Notes), 1992. ISBN 0-937073-80-6
- Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Computer Science (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 59), 1996. ISBN 1-881526-91-7
- Donald E. Knuth, Digital Typography (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 78), 1999. ISBN 1-57586-010-4
- Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Analysis of Algorithms (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 102), 2000. ISBN 1-57586-212-3
- Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Computer Languages (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 139), 2003. ISBN 1-57586-381-2 (cloth), ISBN 1-57586-382-0 (paperback)
- Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Discrete Mathematics (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 106), 2003. ISBN 1-57586-249-2 (cloth), ISBN 1-57586-248-4 (paperback)
- Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Design of Algorithms (publication planned after Vol 4 Fasc 1)
- Donald E. Knuth, Selected Papers on Fun and Games (publication planned after Vol 4 Fasc 1)
- Donald E. Knuth, 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions), 1990. ISBN 0-89579-252-4
- Donald E. Knuth, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (Center for the Study of Language and Information - CSLI Lecture Notes no 136), 2001. ISBN 1-57586-326-X
Interviews and lectures
- TUG'95 (St Petersburg, FL, USA) Questions and answers with Prof. Donald E. Knuth TUGboat 17 (1), 1996
- Woehr, J. An interview with Donald Knuth Dr. Dobb's Journal, April 1996, p. 16-22.
- Donald Knuth on The Art of Computer Programming Addison-Wesley Innovations, 1996
- Questions and Answers with Prof. Donald E. Knuth Czech TUG, Charles University, Prague, 1996
- Knuth meets NTG members, Amsterdam, 13 March 1996.
- Knuth Comments on Code, Byte magazine, September 1996.
- Donald Knuth: A life's work in the art of programming Amazon.com, 1997.
- U.K. TUG, Oxford, [[12 September] 1999: Question & Answer Session with Donald Knuth]. TUGboat, 22 (1/2), 2001.
- Dr. Dobb's Audio & Video Archive of Knuth's MMIX and God & Computers Lectures @ MIT, Fall 1999
- Donald Knuth: MMIX, A RISC Computer for the New Millennium Audio recording of a presetation at the monthly meeting of the Boston ACM 30 December1999
- Wallace, Mark. The art of Don E. Knuth Interview on salon.com, 1999.
- Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About - Lecture 1: Introduction, October 6, 1999
- Advogato, 2000, also available as HTML Version
- AMS, 2001
- Oslo, 2002
- c't, 2002 (in German)
- NZZ Folio, 2002 (in German)
- Donald Knuth, Founding Artist of Computer Science Audio interview by David Kestenbaum on National Public Radio; or Transcript, 14 March 2005.
- Free Software Magazine interview by Gianluca Pignalberi, August 2005
- (Donald Knuth, telling his life story)
- InformIT Interview by Andrew Binstock, April 2008.
- Communications of the ACM, Vol.51,7 pp.35-39, Interview, part 1 by Len Shustek, July 2008.
- Donald Knuth’s home page at Stanford University.
- Oral history interview with Donald E. Knuth at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
- “Love at First Byte,” Kara Platoni, with photography by Timothy Archibald, STANFORD Magazine, May/June 2006. A retrospective of Knuth’s life and work, with some rare, recent photos.
- Donald Knuth: Leonard Euler of Computer Science (Softpanorama)
- Videos of presentations w/ Donald Knuth
- The Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures
- Finite Semifields and Projective Planes - Donald Knuth's Ph.D. dissertation
- Letter sent in February 1994 by Donald Knuth to the Patent and Trademark Office
- Donald E. Knuth, " Algorithmic Themes", in AMS History of Mathematics, Volume 1: A Century of Mathematics in America, AMS, Providence, RI, 1988.
- Donald E. Knuth Knuth email
- A cartoon mentioning Donald Knuth
- Oral History of Donald Knuth
- Donald Knuth video autobiography
- Kill Yr Idols - Donald Knuth - a critique of Donald Knuth by Adequacy.org