Father of Fortran John Backus dies aged 82

The man who brought together and led the IBM team that created Fortran, the first widely-used computer language, has died. John Backus was 82 and passed away at his home in Oregon.

In 1953, Backus proposed to IBM a more efficient alternative to assembly language for programming mainframe computers. The following year he got together a team to define and develop Fortran for the IBM 704 computer. While not the first high-level computer language, it was certainly considered by many to be the first to be widely used. In 1957 the first Fortran compiler was made available.

Backus said the development of Fortran was a constant process of trial, error and determination.

"You need the willingness to fail all the time," he said of the project. "You have to generate many ideas and then you have to work very hard only to discover that they don't work. And you keep doing that over and over until you find one that does work."

Backus went onto serve on committees developing the Algol language. He later worked on a function-level programming language called FP, which focused more on describing a problem to a computer rather than giving it instructions to carry out. He spent the latter part of his career developing its successor FL.

He was named an IBM fellow in 1987 and in 1993 was awarded the Draper Prize. He retired in 1991. He is survived by two daughters and his brother.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.