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Jim Gray (computer scientist)

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Jim Gray
Gray in 2006
James Nicholas Gray

(1944-01-12)January 12, 1944[1]
San Francisco, California[2]
DisappearedJanuary 28, 2007 (aged 63)
Waters near San Francisco
StatusDeclared dead in absentia
January 28, 2012(2012-01-28) (aged 68)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley (Ph.D.)
OccupationComputer scientist
Known forWork on database and transaction processing systems
Spouse(s)Loretta (divorced), Donna Carnes (widowed)
Children1 (daughter)
AwardsTuring Award (1998)[3]
IEEE Computer Society Charles Babbage Award (1998)

James Nicholas Gray (1944 – declared dead in absentia 2012) was an American computer scientist who received the Turing Award in 1998 "for seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation".[4]

Early years and personal life


Gray was born in San Francisco, the second child of Ann Emma Sanbrailo, a teacher, and James Able Gray, who was in the U.S. Army; the family moved to Rome, Italy, where Gray spent most of the first three years of his life; he learned to speak Italian before English. The family then moved to Virginia, spending about four years there, until Gray's parents divorced, after which he returned to San Francisco with his mother. His father, an amateur inventor, patented a design for a ribbon cartridge for typewriters that earned him a substantial royalty stream.[2]

After being turned down for the Air Force Academy he entered the University of California, Berkeley as a freshman in 1961. To help pay for college, he worked as a co-op for General Dynamics, where he learned to use a Monroe calculator. Discouraged by his chemistry grades, he left Berkeley for six months, returning after an experience in industry he later described as "dreadful".[2] Gray earned his B.S. in engineering mathematics (Math and Statistics) in 1966.[5]

After marrying, Gray moved with his wife Loretta to New Jersey, his wife's home state; she worked as a teacher and he worked at Bell Labs on a digital simulation that was to be part of Multics. At Bell, he worked three days a week and spent two days as a Master's student at New York University's Courant Institute. After a year they traveled for several months before settling again in Berkeley, where Gray entered graduate school with Michael A. Harrison as his advisor. In 1969 he received his Ph.D. in programming languages, then did two years of postdoctoral work for IBM.[2]

While at Berkeley, Gray and Loretta had a daughter; they were later divorced. His second wife was Donna Carnes.



Gray pursued his career primarily working as a researcher and software designer at a number of industrial companies, including IBM, Tandem Computers, and DEC. He joined Microsoft in 1995 and was a Technical Fellow for the company[a] until he was lost at sea in 2007.[14]

Gray contributed to several major database and transaction processing systems. IBM's System R was the precursor of the SQL relational databases that have become a standard throughout the world. For Microsoft, he worked on TerraServer-USA and Skyserver.

His best-known achievements include:

He assisted in developing Virtual Earth.[16][17][18] He was also one of the co-founders of the Conference on Innovative Data Systems Research.


Jim Gray on his yacht Tenacious in 2006

Gray, an experienced sailor, owned a 40 foot (12 m) sailboat. On January 28, 2007, he failed to return from a short solo trip to scatter his mother's ashes at the Farallon Islands near San Francisco.[19] The weather was clear, and no distress call was received, nor was any signal detected from the boat's automatic Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon.

A four-day Coast Guard search using planes, helicopters, and boats found nothing.[20][21][22][23] On February 1, 2007, the DigitalGlobe satellite scanned the area[24] and the thousands of images were posted to Amazon Mechanical Turk. Students, colleagues, and friends of Gray, and computer scientists around the world formed a "Jim Gray Group" to study these images for clues. On February 16 this search was suspended,[25] and an underwater search using sophisticated equipment ended May 31.[9][26][27][28][29]

Marine search expert Bob Bilger explains that the type of boat used by Gray, a C&C 40 is vulnerable to hull damage, and can sink as quickly as in 30 seconds, also taking any equipment with it, not leaving any loose debris.[30]

The University of California, Berkeley and Gray's family hosted a tribute on May 31, 2008.[31] Five years after the disappearance, Carnes petitioned a court to have her husband declared dead and on January 28, 2012, Gray was declared legally dead.[32][33][34]

In 2012, Carnes co-authored a paper on coping with ambiguous loss.[35] In 2014, in conjunction with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN interviewed Carnes.[34] At the time, she lived with her elderly mother suffering from dementia in Wisconsin.



Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope software was dedicated to Gray. In 2008, Microsoft Research opened Gray Systems Lab, a research center in Madison, Wisconsin, named after Jim Gray.[36]

Database conference SIGMOD confers the Jim Gray Doctoral Dissertation Award annually to doctoral candidates researching databases.[37]

Each year, Microsoft Research presents the Jim Gray eScience Award to a researcher who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of data-intensive computing.[38] Award recipients are selected for their ground-breaking, fundamental contributions to the field of eScience. Previous award winners include Alex Szalay (2007), Carole Goble (2008), Jeff Dozier (2009), Phil Bourne (2010), Mark Abbott (2011), Antony John Williams (2012), and Dr. David Lipman, M.D. (2013).

See also





  1. ^ a b "DeWitt Undergraduate CS Scholarship: Dr. James Gray". University of Wisconsin–Madison. Archived from the original on 2010-02-23. Retrieved 2010-01-18.
  2. ^ a b c d Oral History Interview with Jim Gray ([purl.umn.edu/107339 Synopsis] at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota. 3 January 2002. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
  3. ^ Gray, J. (2003). "What next?: A dozen information-technology research goals" (PDF). Journal of the ACM. 50: 41–57. arXiv:cs/9911005. doi:10.1145/602382.602401. S2CID 10336312. Jim Gray Turing Award lecture
  4. ^ Gray, Jim (1998). "Jim Gray - A.M. Turing Award Winner". ACM.
  5. ^ "Biography of Dr. Jim Gray". faircom.com. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  6. ^ Transaction Processing: Concepts and Techniques (with Andreas Reuter) (1993). ISBN 1-55860-190-2.
  7. ^ The Benchmark Handbook: For Database and Transaction Processing Systems (1991). Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 978-1-55860-159-8.
  8. ^ Saade, E. (2008). "Search survey for S/V Tenacious". ACM SIGMOD Record. 37 (2): 70–77. doi:10.1145/1379387.1379409. S2CID 15504271.
  9. ^ a b Hellerstein, J. M.; Tennenhouse, D. L. (2011). "Searching for Jim Gray". Communications of the ACM. 54 (7): 77. doi:10.1145/1965724.1965744. S2CID 5608003.
  10. ^ Crawford, D. (2008). "Jim Gray". Communications of the ACM. 51 (11): 7. doi:10.1145/1400214.1400216.
  11. ^ Szalay, A. S. (2008). "Jim Gray, astronomer". Communications of the ACM. 51 (11): 58–65. doi:10.1145/1400214.1400231. S2CID 1897698.
  12. ^ Gray, J. (2008). "Technical perspectiveThe Polaris Tableau system". Communications of the ACM. 51 (11): 74. doi:10.1145/1400214.1400233. S2CID 43390262.
  13. ^ Stonebraker, M.; Dewitt, D. J. (2008). "A tribute to Jim Gray". Communications of the ACM. 51 (11): 54. doi:10.1145/1400214.1400230. S2CID 30060029.
  14. ^ Steve Silberman (24 Jul 2007). "Inside the High Tech Hunt for a Missing Silicon Valley Legend". Wired. Retrieved 3 Feb 2015.
  15. ^ Eswaran, K. P.; Gray, J. N.; Lorie, R. A.; Traiger, I. L. (1976). "The notions of consistency and predicate locks in a database system". Communications of the ACM. 19 (11): 624–633. doi:10.1145/360363.360369. S2CID 12834534.
  16. ^ Winslett, Marianne. "Interview with Jim Gray for ACM SIGMOD Record, March 2003 as part of Distinguished Database Profiles" (PDF). sigmod.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-11-06. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
  17. ^ Interview on MSDN Channel 9, Behind the Code, March 3, 2006
  18. ^ "Deconstructing databases with Jim Gray". regdeveloper.co.uk.
  19. ^ Bell, Gordon; Lamport, Leslie; Lampson, Butler W. (2013). "James N. Gray". Biographical Memoirs. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. CiteSeerX
  20. ^ "Coast Guard searches for missing SF boater: 63-year-old man failed to return from trip to Farallon Islands". San Francisco Chronicle. January 29, 2007.
  21. ^ Doyle, Jim (January 30, 2007). "Sea search for missing Microsoft scientist: No sign of S.F. man who set out alone for Farallon Islands in 40-foot sailboat". San Francisco Chronicle.
  22. ^ Schevitz, Tanya; Rubenstein, Steve (January 31, 2007). "Search for missing sailor extends to Humboldt". San Francisco Chronicle.
  23. ^ May, Meredith; Doyle, Jim (January 31, 2007). "Vast search off coast for data wizard". San Francisco Chronicle.
  24. ^ Hafner, Katie (February 3, 2007). "Silicon Valley's High-Tech Hunt for Colleague". New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  25. ^ "Friends of missing computer scientist suspend search for him". San Francisco Chronicle. February 16, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-03-05.
  26. ^ "Amazon Mechanical Turk - All HITs". mturk.com. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  27. ^ "Tenacious Search". openphi.net. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  28. ^ Help Find Jim Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine Information to help locate Jim Gray
  29. ^ Print a MISSING Poster Archived 2012-11-16 at the Wayback Machine Hang a MISSING Poster in Southern California and Mexico.
  30. ^ Inside the High-Tech Hunt for a Missing Silicon Valley Legend, Wired Magazine (August 2007)
  31. ^ root (16 February 2016). "Industry".
  32. ^ Greengard, Samuel (June 2012). Vardi, Moshe (ed.). "Jim Gray Declared Dead". Communications of the ACM. 55 (7): 19. doi:10.1145/2209249.2209257. ISSN 0001-0782. S2CID 37344941.
  33. ^ Wingfield, Nick (May 18, 2012). "Closure in Disappearance of Computer Scientist". The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  34. ^ a b Basu, Moni (2014-04-12). "Living in limbo: Grieving gets tougher when there's no body to bury". CNN. Retrieved 2024-06-19.
  35. ^ "The Myth of Closure", Family Process, Vol. 51, No. 4, 2012
  36. ^ "Database Pioneer Joins Microsoft to Start New Database Research Lab | Stories". Stories. 2008-04-23. Retrieved 2018-07-19.
  37. ^ "SIGMOD Jim Gray Doctoral Dissertation Award". SIGMOD. Retrieved 2024-03-09.
  38. ^ "Jim Gray eScience Award - Microsoft Research". microsoft.com. Microsoft. Retrieved 2 July 2015.