The 2004 Turning Award, computer science's top honour, has been won by Drs Vinton G Cerf and Robert E Kahn for their invention of the protocols at the heart of the Internet. Their key work "A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection" appeared in 1974 and became the core of TCP/IP -- the basic language of Internet messages.
Developed while Cerf was teaching at Stanford University and Kahn was at the Advanced Research Projects Agency at the US Department of Defense, the arrival of the new standard coincided with rapid developments in data communications equipment and computers powerful enough to handle complex networking. It was quickly adopted as the lingua franca for any hardware or software product that needed to talk to existing networks, "It was an open standard that we would allow anyone to have access to without any constraints," Cerf told the New York Times.
TCP/IP defines how any data can be packaged up and automatically routed to any destination through a number of independent networks. Although the original design did not foresee the size or complexity of the modern Internet nor the huge variety of different types of data now carried, it has remained robust and capable of constant incremental improvements. With the Computer Industry Almanac predicting more than a billion people online in 2005 and TCP/IP prominent in telephony, industrial control and media, the protocol has become the dominant communications standard on the planet.
The prestigious prize is named after Alan Turing, whose theory of computation created the science and practice of information processing. It is awarded annually by the Association for Computing Machinery since 1966, the list of laureates defines the history of modern computer software.
Recipients include Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, definers of Unix and operating system theory in general; Edsger Dijkstra, who laid the groundwork for programming as an engineering discipline; Douglas Englebart, who foresaw the nature of interactive computing and also invented the mouse; and pioneers in encryption, artificial intelligence and other more abstruse areas of computer theory. It carries an award of $100,000, and is supported by Intel.