I recently read in the New York Times that my old "Data Structures and Algorithms" class professor Dr. Ullman had received the Turing Award along with Dr. Aho. The article title was "Turing Award Goes to Creators of Computer Programming Building Blocks".

Now, I think of of "computer programming building blocks" as things like class libraries (or maybe data structures and algorithms) but the story mentioned compiler design:

"On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest society of computing professionals, said Dr. Aho and Dr. Ullman would receive this year’s Turing Award for their work on the fundamental concepts that underpin computer programming languages. ... Dr. Aho and Dr. Ullman helped refine one of the key components of a computer: the “compiler” that takes in software programs written by humans and turns them into something computers can understand."

Can anyone provide a one-sentence summary of their technical contributions, written in layman's terms?

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    $\begingroup$ The ACM brief (awards.acm.org/about/2020-turing) names two books of theirs in particular: "The Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms", and "Principles of Compiler Design" (the so-called "Dragon Book"). Both were definitive in the field. I suspect "building blocks" is a lay term indicating they were awarded for their work in fundamental computer technologies (algorithms, compilers, formal languages, etc.) $\endgroup$ – Jim Nelson Apr 2 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ The Dragon book was the compiler book for many many years - supplanting the earlier "Compiler Construction for Digital Computers" (David Gries) and having a much longer lifetime. Very good on lexing & parsing and reasonably good on the rest of a compiler, it taught generations of compiler devs. The Aho, Ullman, Hopcraft algorithm book was likewise one of the first - though it was superceded in classrooms much quicker. Both were easily read, easily understood, and comprehensive (for their time). $\endgroup$ – davidbak Apr 3 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ @JimNelson is right: "building blocks" is just a headline on a press release - Aho&Ullman's work as summarized for some bloke in a university's PR office, by a CS dept head who despaired of actually describing lexers, grammars, parsers, code generators, and algorithm complexity analysis to an English major. $\endgroup$ – davidbak Apr 3 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, back when they wrote the Dragon book - compilers were a big subject to learn in school: cutting edge technology, everyone needed one (there were minicomputer companies opening in Massachussetts every day). I myself was one of those compiler writers at the compiler "houses" of the time. It was due to the Dragon book that that subject became so cut-and-dry and ordinary that these days it's an undergraduate topic, and it is just assumed everyone is using a compiler of some kind (instead of an assembler, which was the norm) and now it is a profession only for specialists (optimization). $\endgroup$ – davidbak Apr 3 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag - is that true, that it stifled innovation? I don't remember that. But if it was true it wouldn't have been the first time that a "Bible" by acknowledged experts crushed a field, not even the first time in computer science (🡄 now that was a stifling!). Nor will it be the last either ... $\endgroup$ – davidbak Apr 6 at 15:43

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