Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Kenneth Lane Thompson (born February 4 1943), commonly referred to as Ken Thompson (or simply ken in hacker circles), is an American pioneer of computer science notable for his work with the B programming language and his shepherding the Unix and Plan 9 operating systems.


Thompson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.. He received a Bachelor of Science in 1965 and Master's degree in 1966, both in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, from the University of California, Berkeley, where his Master's thesis advisor was Elwyn Berlekamp.

In the 1960s, Thompson and Dennis Ritchie worked on the Multics operating system. While writing Multics, Thompson created the Bon programming language. The two left the Multics project as it was becoming too complex, but they took the lessons they learned to Bell Labs, where, in 1969, Thompson and Ritchie were the principal creators of the Unix operating system. There, Thompson also wrote the B programming language, a precursor to Ritchie's C.

Thompson had developed the CTSS version of the editor QED, which included regular expressions for searching text. QED and Thompson's later editor ed (the default editor on Unix) contributed greatly to the eventual popularity of regular expressions, previously regarded mostly as a tool (or toy) for logicians. Regular expressions became pervasive in Unix text processing programs (such as grep), and even in some modern programming languages like Perl; they are a central concept in Rob Pike's sam text editor. Almost all programs that work with regular expressions today use some variant of Thompson's notation for them.

Thompson also developed UTF-8 (a widely used character encoding) together with Rob Pike in 1992.

Along with Joseph Condon, he created the hardware and software for Belle, a world champion chess computer. He also wrote programs for generating the complete enumeration of chess endings, known as endgame tablebases, for all 4, 5, and 6-piece endings, allowing chess-playing computer programs to make "perfect" moves once a position stored in them is reached. Later, with the help of chess endgame expert John Roycroft, Thompson distributed his first results on CD-ROM.

Thompson's style of programming has influenced others, notably in the terseness of his expressions and a preference for clear statements.

In late 2000, Thompson retired from Bell Labs. He worked at Entrisphere, Inc as a fellow until 2006 and now works at Google as a Distinguished Engineer.


Turing Award

In 1983, Thompson and Ritchie jointly received the Turing Award for their development of generic operating systems theory and specifically for the implementation of the UNIX operating system. His acceptance speech, " Reflections on Trusting Trust" presented the backdoor attack now known as the Thompson hack, and is widely considered a seminal computer security work in its own right.

National Medal of Technology

On April 27 1999, Thompson and Ritchie jointly received the 1998 National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton for co-inventing the UNIX operating system and the C programming language which together have led to enormous advances in computer hardware, software, and networking systems and stimulated growth of an entire industry, thereby enhancing American leadership in the Information Age.

Tsutomu Kanai Award

In 1999, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers chose Thompson to receive the first Tsutomu Kanai Award for his role in creating the UNIX operating system, which for decades has been a key platform for distributed systems work.

== ==Quotes == ==

  • "When in doubt, use brute force."
  • "We have persistent objects, they're called files."
  • "One of my most productive days was throwing away 1000 lines of code."
  • "If you want to go somewhere, goto is the best way to get there."
  • "The X server has to be the biggest program I've ever seen that doesn't do anything for you."
  • "The act of breaking into a computer system has to have the same social stigma as breaking into a neighbor's house."
  • "The moral is obvious. You can't trust code that you did not totally create yourself. (Especially code from companies that employ people like me.) No amount of source-level verification or scrutiny will protect you from using untrusted code."


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