Google boosts Turing Award computing prize to $1 million

Computer scientists no longer need have Nobel envy -- at least financially. A Google cash infusion quadrupled the size of the top computer science prize.

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The ACE computer, designed by Alan Turing, now at the London Science Museum.
The Pilot ACE computer, designed by Alan Turing, now at the London Science Museum. Stephen Shankland/CNET
There's no Nobel prize for computer science, but after a grant from Google, the top award in the field is now just as lucrative.

The Turing Award now is worth $1 million, quadruple its earlier value, the Association for Computing Machinery announced Thursday.

"With the generous support of Google, we can celebrate the mainstream role of computing in transforming the world and the way we communicate, conduct business and access entertainment," said ACM President Alexander Wolf in a statement (PDF).

Since the days of Alfred Nobel, who grew rich off the invention of dynamite, scientific and technical research has changed dramatically. Physics and chemistry are crucial foundations to making computers work -- this year's Nobel Prize for blue-light LEDs now powering the displays of tablets, smartphones and laptops are a good example. But Google today mostly concentrates its resources at the higher levels of programming, algorithms and system design that the Turing Award recognizes.

"We think it's important to recognize when people make fundamental contributions in computer science, and we want to help ACM raise awareness of these innovators and the contributions they've made to the world," said Stuart Feldman, Google's vice president of engineering.

The ACM has given Turing Awards in recent years for work in artificial intelligence, cryptography, Unix, the Internet's basic plumbing, personal computers, Ethernet networking, computer graphics, the Smalltalk programming language and more.

Association for Computing Machinery logo

The Turing Award is named after British mathematician Alan Turing, who pioneered many fundamental aspects of computer science, helped build the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) computer in the 1940s, created what's now called the Turing test of artificial intelligence and helped crack the German Enigma code in World War II.

The Nobel Prize, awarded in Swedish kronor, isn't exactly $1 million; in 2013 it was worth about $1.25 million, and in 2014, $1.1 million. The value of the prize varies with inflation and the magnitude the Nobel Prize chooses (see the annual changes figures in this PDF).

In 1919 it reached an all-time low of 28 percent of the value of the first prize, awarded in 1901. It rose back up and in the 1990s surpassed the full value of the original award, but more recently has slipped back to 98 percent.