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Remembering Franz Alt

By Bob Violino

August 19, 2011



Franz Alt, one of the founders of ACM and its president from 1950 to 1952, died July 21, 2011 at the age of 100. Born in Austria, Alt worked as a mathematician in the U.S. and made key contributions to computer science in its early days.

While serving in the military in the 1940s he was assigned to the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, in charge of planning for electronic computation. He later served as deputy chief of the Computing Laboratory at Aberdeen, a general-purpose mathematical service organization operating large digital and analog computing machines.

 He directed the early use of computers throughout the National Bureau of Standards and in other federal government entities, and did research in numerical analysis, statistical engineering and other branches of applied mathematics.

Alt helped launch the ACM as an organization committed to sharing computing knowledge and skills. He was editor of the organization’s Journal and the first recipient of its ACM’s Distinguished Service Award. In 1994 he was in the first group to be inducted as a Fellow of ACM.

“I worked fairly closely with Franz Alt during the 50's and 60's [as a] member of the editorial board and editor-in-chief of CACM and JACM,” says Kelly Gotlieb, professor emeritus in computer science at the University of Toronto. “I always found him to be supportive and informed. He was a true gentleman, and played an enormously important role during ACM's startup years.”

"Dr. Alt, when I met him several years ago at 96 years of age, was a
sprightly soul who continued to enjoy playing in a string quartet with his
friends in the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” says Atsushi Akera, a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “I am sure he will be sorely missed by his friends, as well as his many colleagues over a long and illustrious career."


 

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