David Kuck awarded IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal for pioneering work in parallelization

3/20/2024 Michael O'Boyle

Written by Michael O'Boyle

David J. Kuck
David J. Kuck

Department of Computer Science Professor Emeritus David Kuck at The Grainger College of Engineering, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, received the 2024 IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal. This award recognizes “innovative work in computing leading to lasting impact on other aspects of engineering, science, technology, or society,” and Kuck has been recognized for “pioneering work in vector and parallel computer architecture, software, and compilers that enables many performance-sensitive applications.”

In the 1970s, Kuck and his students at Illinois developed the Parafrase computer system. It was the first to automatically “vectorize” human-written code, interpreting it so that it simultaneously runs across multiple processing units on specialized hardware. This work demonstrated the value of parallel computing which is now a ubiquitous technique.

“Fifty years ago, hardware add-ons like vector units were quite expensive, but my students and I showed that computer architectures and compilers exploiting these units can run 100 to 1,000 times faster,” Kuck said. “Now, almost all computers have vector and parallel hardware and software support. GPUs depend almost entirely on having systems with good parallel software libraries.”

He founded Kuck and Associates in 1979 to create compilers—specialized programs that translate code into machine instructions—that automatically optimize code for parallel computing architectures. He sold the company to Intel in 2000.

Kuck’s foundational work in parallel computing architecture has affected nearly all aspects of modern computing by providing significant advancements in speed that enable computing applications such as algorithm execution, graphics processing and machine learning.

“On a personal note, this award is significant to me because Fran Allen and I were good friends,” Kuck added. “She was working on the same compiler problems at IBM as I was at Illinois, and we collaborated through IBM’s support of Parafrase. We grew close over time, and her passing was a personal loss.”

Kuck graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate from Northwestern University. He was a postdoctoral researcher and then a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to Illinois in 1965, where he advised over 30 Ph.D. students in computer science and electrical & computer engineering. He retired from Illinois in 1993 but worked on computer architecture and application development tools for Kuck and Associates and Intel until 2023. He continues to contribute to Intel’s Quality as Service web software. He is a Lifetime Fellow of the IEEE.

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This story was published March 20, 2024.