Sign In

Communications of the ACM

Editor's letter

Time for Two Annual Turing Awards


ACM should bestow two Turing Awards each year, starting immediately. I do not mean to two people; a number of Turing Awards have been shared. But rather, my position is that the ACM should award several Turing Awards every year. These awards could be staggered by six months, perhaps in spring and fall, to ensure each winner receives the focused attention of the computing community and the world they richly deserve. This attention properly focuses on their research accomplishments and impact on the world.


James Van Zandt

Perhaps the additional award should honor one of the other computing pioneers (Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, Tim Berners-Lee...).

Andrew Chien

Thanks James! Those are of course interesting suggestions, and while I don't see an eligibility requirement, I don't know of any cases where at Turing Award was given posthumously. I would note that Sir Tim Berners-Lee is in fact the 2016 A.M. Turing Award winner!

CACM Administrator

[[The following letters are published on the Letters to the Editor pages of the August 2021 Communications of the ACM (
--CACM Administrator]]

In the June issue of Communications, Editor-in-Chief Andrew A. Chien suggested in his Editor's Letter (p. 5) that ACM consider bestowing two A.M. Turing Awards per year. Reader reactions to his idea included the following:

Immediately upon reading your June Editor's letter, my reaction was "No!" because I thought two annual awards would reduce the stature of each and minimize the honor to recipients and even to Alan Turing. But I was hasty in forming my opinion. I reread your argument and changed my opinionI now believe we need to think even bigger.

The number "two" suggests a division between hardware and software. But our discipline, as you note, has grown far and wide. It is more complex than this dichotomy. I propose four categories, understanding that not all need be awarded in a given year. These are: hardware design or fabrication; software languages or algorithms; networks or communications; and ethical or sustainable practices. The last category may appear out of place. With respect, here is where I disagree with your interpretation that the A.M. Turing Award is for contributions by leading researchers [my emphasis.]

The published criterion for the Award states: "The contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field." There is no mention of academia vs. industry. ACM has for a long time recognized the practice of computer science as well as pure research. An excellent example is Charlie Bachman, industry practitioner, and the 1973 Turing recipient.

Applications of ethics and the practice of sustainable methods can still meet the "major technical importance" criterion while encouraging meaningful contributions by practitioners and researchers alike. (I would include in this contributions to teaching and advancing knowledge, as evidenced by Aho and Ullman.)

Additionally, ethical and sustainability dilemmas are rapidly appearing with the rise of AI and ML, resource scarcity, manufacturing practices, and crypto-currency mining. We, the ACM, should encourage practical solutions to these global issues that affect humankind.

I welcome dialogue, discussion, and debate of these ideas. Thank you for initiating the process.

Gary Rector
Cave Creek, AZ, USA

Very bad idea to have two Turing awards. That award is for truly outstanding computer scientists. Do not cheapen it.

Alexander Simonelis
Montreal, Canada

Perhaps it would be a good idea to take all the other ACM awards and make them all Turing Awards. The Turing Award could be more like the Oscars, and given by Category at a big event.

Maurice van Swaaij
Brooklyn, NY, USA

I think the award is not truly international at this point and efforts should be made in that direction.

Alex Thomasian
Pleasantville, NY, USA

You asked for input about it being time for "two annual Turing Awards" each year. I feel very dubious about this change. Why, you may ask? Because, unless something is done to dramatically alter the way that the Awardees are selected, ACM will likely just be doubling the number of Caucasian males who have overwhelmingly received the Association's highest honor.

Certainly Aho and Ullman were long-deserving of this award. Indeed their colleague, John Hopcroft, received his in 1986. As for myself, as someone who both studied from and later taught from the AHU collection of books, I was glad to see the remaining duo's pioneering efforts take their place this year alongside many other notable gurus and graybeards over the decades. I am not intending to disparage the work of anyone on the Turing Award list. But, as a female computer scientist, it is yet another disappointment to see two more white guys get selected for this recognition.

ACM can and must do better than this. There are many outstanding Black, Indian, Asian, Latinx, female, non-binary, and other computation pioneers, deserving of this award, who continue to not be represented here. What message is ACM giving to youth? Would Turing himself, who was prosecuted and subjected to chemical castration because he was homosexual, be proud to see such overt bias perpetuated, year after year after year by the ACM in his name? I think not.

So, if you are intent upon giving out two Turing Awards each year, going forward, then the rule must be that only one of them can be given to a Caucasian male. You can start by making sure that your nominating committee has a preponderance of non-Caucasian non-males doing the search and selection of awardees. Perhaps you should have a hiatus of five years where zero Caucasian males can be eligible to receive the Turing Award, so that the other races and genders have a chance to catch up. Just look harder. There are plenty of highly qualified candidates in the world that would fit these expansive demographics.

I hope you will seriously consider this suggestion.

Rebecca Mercuri
Senior Life Member of ACM
Hamilton, NJ, USA


Its great to see that thoughtful and provocative responses that my proposal to have two Turing Awards evoked! There really are many reasons why increasing the number of Turing Awards would advance computing as a field, community, and recognize more of our remarkable leaders. Keep the letters coming!

Andrew A. Chien
Chicago, IL, USA

Displaying all 3 comments

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.
Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account