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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Man Who Revolutionized Computer Science With Mathematics

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What is the problem statement?

We couldn’t formulate the behavior of distributed computing systems during system failures. In a distributed system, it is sometimes impossible to say that one of two events occurred first.

This 1978 paper, entitled “Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System”, is one of the most-cited papers in computer science, and also won the Principles of Distributed Computing Influential Paper Award more than 20 years later. He made fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of distributed and concurrent systems, notably the invention of concepts such as causality and logical clocks, safety and liveness, replicated state machines, and sequential consistency.

Some CS Background:

“When you write an algorithm, you need to have a proof that it’s correct. An algorithm without a proof is a conjecture, it’s not a theorem, and if you’re proving things well, that means mathematics.”

“People confuse programming with coding. Coding is to programming what typing is to writing. Writing is something that involves mental effort.”

The Award

In 2013, Leslie Lamport won the ACM Turing Award for his work on distributed systems where multiple components on different networks coordinate to achieve a common objective. Lamport’s work on distributed systems forms the basis of modern computing(Cloud services /distributed systems / scalable architectures etc.). He used the special theory of relativity to solve the problem.

When the information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. He realized that that notion of causality was violated by the algorithm written by Thomas and Johnson. It’s completely analogous to the relation and special relativity.

So what he did is he wrote a paper that explained this notion of causality. One could solve any distributed system problem by building what is called a state machine.

Result:

The algorithms that he designed are now fundamental to the way we build web-scale systems, the systems that all of us use every day. Without Leslie’s innovations, we wouldn’t have the computing environment that we have today. In many cases, they were viewed as only of theoretical interest.

His work on Paxos has been implemented in many products, in uses such as Microsoft Azure storage, Azure’s Rest Availability Proxy, and the Cosmos data storage and query system. He has contributed to the correctness of the Windows Server Transaction Protocol, and the modeling in the Oslo platform for model-driven applications was inspired by his work on Temporal Logic of Actions (TLA). And many at Microsoft have benefited from the LaTeX document-preparation system, created by Lamport.

Bill Gates:“This is well-deserved recognition for a remarkable scientist. As a leader in defining many of the key concepts of distributed computing that enable today’s mission-critical computer systems, Leslie has done great things not just for the field of computer science, but also in helping make the world a safer place. Countless people around the world benefit from his work without ever hearing his name. I like to think this award is also recognition of the amazing work of Microsoft Research, which has become a great home for scientists and engineers who want to tackle the industry’s most difficult challenges. Leslie is a fantastic example of what can happen when the world’s brightest minds are encouraged to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Conclusion:

The Internet is based on distributed-systems technology, which is based on a theoretical foundational invented by Leslie. So if you enjoy using the Internet, then you partly owe to Leslie.

References:

  • ACM Award : https://amturing.acm.org/award_winners/lamport_1205376.cfm
  • Excellent Article to read – Understnad Lamport clocks : https://medium.com/baseds/logical-time-and-lamport-clocks-part-1-d0317e407112
  • To know more about Leslie Bio and his work – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/leslie-lamport-receives-turing-award/
  • https://towardsdatascience.com/understanding-lamport-timestamps-with-pythons-multiprocessing-library-12a6427881c6
  • https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/lamports-logical-clock/

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