Computer theorist wins $1 million Turing Prize

Computers seem methodical, deliberate, and utterly predictable. But they can also behave in completely random ways. As researchers build ever more powerful machines, a key question is: what role will randomness play?

On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery, the world's largest society of computing professionals, announced that this year's Turing Prize will go to Avi Wigderson, an Israeli-born theoretical computer mathematician and computer scientist who specializes in randomness.

Often called the Nobel Prize in computing, the Turing Prize carries a prize of $1 million. The award is named after Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped lay the foundations for modern computing in the mid-20th century.

Other recent winners include Ed Catmull and Pat Hanrahan, who helped create the computer-generated imagery, or CGI, that drives modern film and television, and artificial intelligence researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio, who cultivated the techniques that gave rise to chatbots like ChatGPT.

Although computers typically behave deterministically, meaning they follow a predictable pattern set by their creators, scientists have also shown that random behavior can help solve some problems. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Wigderson said randomness played a role in smartphone applications, cloud computing systems, microprocessors and more.

“It's everywhere,” he said.

Randomness is essential for encryption, where unique digital keys are used to lock data and applications. Algorithms that involve random behavior can also help analyze complex situations, such as activity in the stock market, a storm moving across the country, or the spread of disease.

Dr. Wigderson, a professor of mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, was among a group of academics who published a series of papers exploring the role of randomness in solving extraordinarily difficult problems, such as predicting the weather or find a cure. for cancer.

The ultimate lesson of this work, said Madhu Sudan, a theoretical computer scientist at Harvard University, is that computers can solve many complex problems that humans will never fully understand, but some things will remain a mystery, even to machines .

“This shows that there are many things we can solve with computers,” Dr. Sudan said. “It also demonstrates that this progress will not be unlimited.”

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