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Jim Horning, Reknown Computer Scientist, Dies

January 23, 2013

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James Jay (Jim) Horning, a leading figure in the evolution of computer science and an active participant in many ACM programs, died January 18 in Palo Alto, Calif. Horning was instrumental in solidifying ACM's awards program to recognize excellence in computing. He was co-chair of the ACM Awards Committee, along with Calvin C. (Kelly) Gotlieb, from 2002 to 2012.

"I consider Jim Horning to have been a quintessential member of the computer science and especially the ACM communities," said Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google Inc., and ACM President. "Dedicated to ACM, the Awards Committee, the discipline, and the community, Jim Horning conveyed the best one can ever find in our profession. Always ready to help with a quiet style of leadership, many of us felt free to turn to him and frequently did for advice borne of experience and calm thought. I will miss him as will so many in our field and community."

A prolific figure in the computing field, Horning said he was "fascinated . . . by the use and potential of computers" since 1959, when he wrote his first computer program. He captured his observations and memories in several blogs, among them The Way It Was: Tales From a Life in Computing, and Nothing Is as Simple as We Hope It Will Be. A self-described computer scientist, he also enjoyed photography, science fiction, genealogy, fuchsias, and West Highland white terriers.

Horning's interest in the mastery of complexity (especially by linguistic means) led to his research on a variety of computing disciplines, including programming languages and compilers, grammatical inference, operating systems, programming methodology, formal specification and verification, tools for electronic commerce in intellectual property, and computer and network security.

Horning's career spanned more than four decades. He earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Stanford University in 1969. Also in 1969, he was a founding member of the University of Toronto's Computer Systems Research Group. Horning was a research fellow at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1977 to 1984, and a founding member and senior consultant at Digital Equipment's Corp.'s Systems Research Center from 1984 to 1996. Throughout his career, he held high-level security positions at several Silicon Valley companies including McAfee, SPARTA, InterTrust Technologies, and Silicon Graphics. He was a consultant for Advanced Elemental Technologies from 2009 until his death.

Horning, an ACM member since 1965, was named an ACM Fellow in 1998 for fundamental contributions to programming language design and specification methodology, and for leadership in computing and public policy. He was a member of the ACM Fellows Selection Committee from 1998 to 2002, and chaired the group in 2001. He was also a long-time member of the ACM U.S. Public Policy Council, and of ACM's Committee on Computers and Public Policy, which publishes The RISKS Digest.

A member of the Computing Research Association board of directors from 2001 to 2004, Horning served the International Federation for Information Processing working groups on Programming Methodology and Foundations of System Specification, and was a member of IEEE and IEEE-CS. He co-authored two books: Larch: Languages and Tools for Formal Specification (1993), and A Compiler Generator (1970).

Gotlieb recalled his collegial relationship with Horning starting from their days at the University of Toronto, and his indispensable role at ACM. "Jim knew a great many people who were good candidates for appointment to award committees, and that was very important," Gotlieb said. "He was not only a colleague, but a friend. He left us too soon."


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