Robert W. Floyd

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Robert W Floyd
Born (1936-06-08)June 8, 1936
New York City
Died September 25, 2001(2001-09-25) (aged 65)
Stanford
Nationality American
Fields Computer science
Institutions Carnegie Mellon University
Stanford University
Illinois Institute of Technology
Alma mater University of Chicago
Known for Floyd–Warshall algorithm
Floyd–Steinberg dithering
Floyd's cycle-finding algorithm
Notable awards Turing Award (1978)
Computer Pioneer Award (1991)

Robert W (Bob) Floyd[1] (June 8, 1936 – September 25, 2001) was an eminent computer scientist.

His contributions include the design of the Floyd–Warshall algorithm (independently of Stephen Warshall), which efficiently finds all shortest paths in a graph, Floyd's cycle-finding algorithm for detecting cycles in a sequence, and his work on parsing. In one isolated paper he introduced the important concept of error diffusion for rendering images, also called Floyd–Steinberg dithering (though he distinguished dithering from diffusion). A significant achievement was pioneering the field of program verification using logical assertions with the 1967 paper Assigning Meanings to Programs. This was an important contribution to what later became Hoare logic.

Life[edit]

Born in New York, Floyd finished school at age 14. At the University of Chicago, he received a Bachelor's degree in liberal arts in 1953 (when still only 17) and a second Bachelor's degree in physics in 1958. Floyd was a college roommate of Carl Sagan.[2]

Floyd became a staff member of the Armour Research Foundation (now IIT Research Institute) at Illinois Institute of Technology in the 1950s. Becoming a computer operator in the early 1960s, he began publishing many noteworthy papers, including compilers (particularly parsing). He was a pioneer of operator-precedence grammars, and is credited with initiating the field of programming language semantics in Floyd (1967). He was appointed an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University by the time he was 27 and became a full professor at Stanford University six years later. He obtained this position without a Ph.D.

He received the Turing Award in 1978 "for having a clear influence on methodologies for the creation of efficient and reliable software, and for helping to found the following important subfields of computer science: the theory of parsing, the semantics of programming languages, automatic program verification, automatic program synthesis, and analysis of algorithms".

Floyd worked closely with Donald Knuth, in particular as the major reviewer for Knuth's seminal book The Art of Computer Programming, and is the person most cited in that work. He was the co-author, with Richard Beigel, of the textbook The Language of Machines: an Introduction to Computability and Formal Languages (1994, W.H. Freeman and Company, ISBN 978-0-7167-8266-7). Floyd supervised 7 PhD graduates.[3]

Floyd married and divorced twice, including with computer scientist Christiane Floyd, and he had four children. In his last years he suffered from Pick's disease, a neurodegenerative disease, and thus retired early in 1994 (age 58). His hobbies included hiking and he was an avid backgammon player:

We once were stuck at the Chicago O’Hare airport for hours, waiting for our flight to leave, owing to a snow storm. As we sat at our gate, Bob asked me, in a casual manner, “do you know how to play backgammon?” I answered I knew the rules, but why did he want to know? Bob said since we had several hours to wait perhaps we should play a few games, for small stakes of course. He then reached into his briefcase and removed a backgammon set.

My Dad taught me many things. One was to be wary of anyone who suggests a game of pool for money, and then opens a black case and starts to screw together a pool stick. I figured that this advice generalized to anyone who traveled with their own backgammon set. I told Bob that I was not going to play for money, no way. He pushed a bit, but finally said fine. He proceeded instead to give me a free lesson in the art and science of playing backgammon.

I was right to pass on playing him for money—at any stakes. The lesson was fun. I found out later that for years he had been working on learning the game. He took playing backgammon very seriously, studied the game and its mathematics, and was a near professional. I think it was more than a hobby. Like his research, Bob took what he did seriously, and it is completely consistent that he would be terrific at backgammon.

Selected publications[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Floyd had his middle name "Willoughby" legally changed to "W" but preferred to abbreviate it as "W." (Knuth 2003) (DOD form DD 48-1, personal papers, Stanford University Archive catalog SC 625 box 4)
  2. ^ Stanford University Archives, Catalog SC 625, box 7
  3. ^ "Tree of Robert Floyd's students for the Computer History Exhibits". Stanford Computer History. Stanford University. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]