Corrado Böhm

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Corrado Böhm was born on January 17th 1923 in Milan, Italy, and lived there until 1942, when he left Italy for Switzerland. At the time he was a student in Engineering.

He graduated in Electrical Engineering in 1946, at the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland, and shortly afterwards he became a research assistant at the ETH (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zürich.

The beginning of Corrado’s activity in Computer Science can be traced back to 1947, when he was asked to collaborate in the performance evaluation of the computing machine Z4 of Konrad Zuse,....read more

Some thoughts, quotes, anecdotes by his friends, former students, family members ...

Mariangiola Dezani Ciancaglini link to her U site

Ever since my first meeting with Corrado Böhm I was fascinated by his creativity, passion and curiosity in doing research.

Corrado Böhm is a great teacher:  he takes his students sweetly by hand and shows them how beautiful the world of scientific investigation is. No doubt I have been very privileged in being his student and I feel infinitely grateful to him.


Sin dal mio primo incontro con Corrado Böhm sono stata affascinata dalla sua creativita', passione e curiosita' nel fare ricerca.

Corrado Böhm e' un grande maestro che sa prendere dolcemente per mano i suoi studenti per svelare quanto sia meraviglioso

il mondo dell'indagine scientifica. Senza dubbio considero un grandissimo privilegio l'essere stata sua allieva e provo per lui una

riconoscenza infinita.


Henk Barendregt link to his U site

Corrado Boehm's achievements are remarkable as he has both technological results (e.g. showing the practical possibility of a compiler that can compile the language in which it is written, thus leading to the bootstrap of increasing efficiency of computers) and theoretical results (e.g. comparable to the purity of number theory: the separability of beta-eta-normal lambda terms).

J. Roger Hindley link to his U site

...he combines outstanding technical ability and originality of thought with great personal charm, which is very unusual in gifted problem-solvers of this high level.

Roger’s wife, Carol, adds: “he has such charm that things just happen around him...”

Giorgio Ausiello link to his U site

I first met Corrado Bohm while I still was a student of physics at the University of Rome, in 1964. The title of his course (the only computer science course at that time) was 'Programming Techniques' but it essentially consisted in a computability course: Turing machines, lambda calculus, Markov algorithms. A whole new world was disclosed to me...  Continues and translation.

Alessandro Berarducci (more from Alessandro) link to his U site

a significant and fun thought ...


Corrado’s lessons were completely different from any other Mathematics lesson I was then following at the “Sapienza” University. Corrado’s method was similar to the one some swimming coaches apply, who simply throw you into the swimming pool, and then … well, we’ll see. Much the same, he would plunge us without any theoretical preamble into a world peopled by strange creatures, whom he would call “combinators” and whom he introduced to us one by one, making them act on the blackboard as if they were alive.

Little by little we started making friends with K,S,I,C,C*,W,D,A,B,Y  &co. without any idea about the status these objects had, or what limits there were to the freedom of creating new ones, learning however to handle them to perfection, precisely the way a child learns addition and multiplication without knowing what a number is. Was it a theory? A programming language? Nothing of sort. In Corrado’s mind, the combinators simply acted, like microbes, say, and the only reasonable approach was that of trying to use them to one’s ends, without posing any limitation whatsoever. I was used to the rigid scheme of traditional teaching, and was expecting, as starters, axioms, definitions, and theorems, but such expectations didn’t match Corrado’s methods. To him research was deeply entangled with freedom, experimenting, art, and fantasy. When he realised I was expecting rules and discipline, he prompted me, somehow challenging me, but being deeply sincere, to NOT read and NOT study, because that would have stifled my fantasy. At that time I was  baffled, but after many years I realise now that I got to know combinators much better than I would have, had I studied the various theorems with discipline and in the right order, and I know this feeling is widely shared among Corrado’s students.


Le lezioni di Corrado erano completamente diverse dalle altre lezioni di matematica che seguivo alla Sapienza. Il metodo di Corrado era simile a quello di alcuni istruttori di nuoto, che per prima cosa ti buttano in piscina, e poi si vedra'. Analogamente lui ci immergeva, senza alcun preambolo teorico, in un mondo popolato da creature strane, che lui chiamava "combinatori", e che ci presentava uno ad uno per nome, facendoli agire sulla lavagna, quasi fossero esseri dotati di vita propria.

A poco a poco cominciammo a fare amicizia con K,S,I,C,C*,W,D,A,B,Y e compagni, senza assolutamente sapere quale status avessero questi oggetti, e quali confini fossero posti alla liberta' di crearne di nuovi, ma imparando in compenso a manipolarli alla perfezione, esattamente come un bambino impara le addizioni e le moltiplicazioni senza pero' saper dire cosa siano i numeri. Si trattava di una teoria? Di un linguaggio di programmazione? Nulla di tutto cio': per Corrado i combinatori semplicemente agivano, come i micobri diciamo, e  l'unico atteggiamento sensato era quello di cercare di utilizzarli per i propri fini senza porre confini di alcun tipo. Abituato al rigido schema dell'insegnamento tradizionale, io mi aspettavo come prima cosa assiomi definizioni e teoremi, ma questo mal si coniugava con il metodo di Corrado. Per lui la ricerca era intimamente legata alla liberta', alla sperimentazione, all'arte, e alla fantasia. Quando si rendeva conto che io invece cercavo regole e disciplina, mi invitava, forse in modo provocatorio ma in fondo con grande sincerita', a NON leggere e a NON studiare, perche' cio' avrebbe tarpato la mia fantasia.  Al tempo cio' mi sconcertava, ma a distanza di molti anni penso di aver imparato a conoscere i combinatori molto meglio che se ne avessi disciplinatamente studiato nell'ordine giusto i vari teoremi, e so che questo e' un sentimento comune tra gli allievi di Corrado.


and an anecdote

When I was a student, Corrado once gave me a problem to solve – I don’t remember exactly now what it was about, maybe I had to find some lambda-terms, or maybe a new list system. I struggled a lot and finally came up with a solution. I immediately informed Corrado and he was very happy. Proud as I was, I wanted to talk more about it, and the following day I got the opportunity to do so, when Corrado invited me to do some work at his home. However, when I managed to bring up the subject in the discussion, he hastily dimissed me by saying that the problem had already been solved. I was taken aback, disappointed: “Why – I thought - why has he given me that problem to solve if the solution was already available? “ Still completely absorbed in his thoughts, he continued: “Yes, it was solved by… by…, oh yes, by you!” Having got to know him, I knew I shouldn’t take offence: his topmost priority was the progress of Science, and, without hesitation or distraction, he was just eager to go beyond whatever he knew was known already, be it so only since the day before.


Quando ero studente Corrado mi aveva dato un problema, ora non ricordo esattamente cosa, ma si trattava di trovare dei lambda termini di un certo tipo, forse un nuovo sistema di liste. Dopo molti sforzi ero riuscito a risolvere il problema. Ne accennai subito a Corrado, non ricordo se per telefono o di persona, e lui ne fu molto contento. Orgoglioso come ero del mio risultato volevo pero' continuare a parlargliene, e l'occasione si presento' il giorno seguente quando Corrado mi invito' a casa sua a lavorare. Quando pero' portai il discorso sull'argomento,  Corrado subito mi interruppe dicendomi che il problema era gia' stato risolto. Li' per li' ci rimasi male. Come! - pensai - ma allora perche' mi ha dato questo problema se la soluzione era gia' nota? Lui, immerso nei suoi pensieri, continuo': - si e' stato gia' risolto da ... da ..., ma si', da Lei !. Avendo imparato a conoscerlo capii che non dovevo prendermela: per lui la priorita' era il progresso della Scienza, e senza indugi e distrazioni non vedeva l'ora di andare insieme al di la' di cio' che sapeva essere noto, fosse anche noto solamente da una giornata.

and more thoughts      

read more thoughts from Alessandro...doc


Eva, his wife

I think we don’t know him well, he carries within himself news we cannot predict....

He’s an astonishing creature because he walks the world in a way that is both natural and sweet, and he will always surprise us because he’s spontaneous and never banal. I feel it is a privilege to be his wife and to have been able to live with him.



I am the firstborn of a genius… of  a father of information technology, … and I want to remember here some of the traits of the personality of Corrado Böhm that haven’t been talked about elsewhere.

Corrado was called “Corrodi” within the family, ever since a janitor, at the Swiss University where my father was undergoing his Ph.D. examinations, addressed my mother, who was anxiously waiting for him outside, calling him “Doktor Corrodi”.

Corrodi always loved “double face” objects, I remember a raincoat/overcoat … and I’ll say, in the teeth of pure mathematicians, he seems to me to have found the same double-ness in the quintessential undecidable nature of numbers who can be both operators and operands at the same time!

Corrado always considered all games as algorithms, and once, when he had beaten me at checkers one more time, and I had lost it, and had thrown board and pawns out of the window, he immediately went downstairs to recover them, searching for every piece with a monk-like patience … and when one day I asked him for an Apple II, he had me show that I knew how to write a program to play tic tac toe… and when, for a long time, I went on begging all day long for a Lisa, he would answer: “No, you must wait for the Macintosh”…

Corrado always fought against dogmatic good-sense, so that the Socratic/Psychoanalytic “know yourself” became “recognize yourself” … whence the compiler and the lambda calculus;  … to the mechanic Marxian juxtaposition Structure/Supra-structure, he countered the terrific unifying hypothesis of “Natural Selection” … hence also his latest taking to Bioinformatics, “which couldn’t care less whether a problem is NP” and solves it in an approximate, self-organised and parallel way… Corrodi is Great!


Penso che non lo conosciamo bene, che porta in sé delle notizie che non prevediamo…..

E’ un essere sorprendente perché attraversa il mondo con naturalezza e dolcezza e che potrà sempre sorprenderci perché molto spontaneo e mai banale. Io mi sento privilegiata di essere sua moglie e di aver potuto vivere con lui.


His eldest son Michele

Sono il figlio primogenito di un genio….di un padre dell’Informatica… e voglio ricordare alcuni tratti della personalità di Corrado Böhm che non hanno trovato spazio altrove.

Corrado in famiglia è sempre stato chiamato Corrodi…da quando, rivolgendosi a mia madre, che aspettava ansiosa in Svizzera i risultati del suo dottorato, il bidello lo chiamò “Doktor Corrodi”…

Corrodi ha sempre amato gli oggetti double face mi ricordo di come era fiero di un suo impermeabile/cappotto… e alla faccia dei matematici puri ha ritrovato questa natura doppia nell’indecidibile quintessenza dei numeri operandi e operatori al tempo stesso !

Corrodi ha sempre concepito i giochi come espressioni algoritmiche e quando mi vinse per l’ennesima volta agli scacchi in preda alla furia gettai dalla finestra pezzi e scacchiera che lui andò certosinamente a recuperare…e quando gli chiesi un Apple ][ dovetti dimostrargli di saper scrivere un programma per il filetto…e quando mendicavo tutto il giorno la Lisa mi disse “No, aspetta il Macintosh”…

Corrodi ha sempre lottato contro il buon senso dogmatico e così il socratico/pscicoanalitico “Conosci te stesso” diventò “Riconosci te stesso”….e da qui il compilatore e poi il lambda calcolo…alla meccanica divisione marxiana “Struttura/Sovrastruttura” ha contrapposto la terrificante ipotesi unificatrice della “Selezione Naturale”…. e così l’interesse ultimo per la Bioinformatica “che se ne frega se un problema è NP” e lo risolve in modo approssimato, auto-organizzato e parallelo…..Grande il Corrodi !!!!!




Emanuele, his second son

I am honored  to write something about Corrado, on the day of his 87th birthday --it never happened to me before.  Since I was little I was very fascinated with the way Corrado related to any kind of what would now be called technological gadgets and gizmos. He taught me to use the slide rule but also Kurta, a coffee grinder shaped mechanical calculator.  I remember also going to Forte Antenne to listen to my dad using his CB radio to talk to people around Europe and even on the top of the Monti Cimini at 1000m altitude to reach further around the world with his CB radio (the so called "baracchino"). When the time came I believe in 1972 when he wrote a sequence of instructions to be used on the Sanyo Elsi Mini pocket calculator with red digits to compute the square root even though only the four operations were possible, I exulted.  Also accompanying him to the Computer Science Institute in Turin and seeing the PDP 11 being booted with a sequence of buttons in the front panel is pretty well engraved in my memory.  Several years later taking part to his University lectures as a student was also an enriching experience (because until then I knew him as a father in the family interactions) that revealed to me different aspects of his personality. It allowed me to see how original and innovative he was compared to all the other professors I encountered in my university training. I am pretty sure that he never repeated a lecture twice in different years of his teaching of "theory and applications of computing machines". I think he had the ability of "naturally selecting" the best students by sparking their interest in the subject during the course of each lecture.



Ariela, his daughter

Ever since I was a child I have always felt, and experienced, that no matter how busy my father was with his brilliant discoveries, his mind many feet above the ground, he was always within my reach.

When I needed him, were it for a childish trifle, or something more important, Dad would grant me all the time and attention needed, regardless of the importance of the issue I raised, and this made me obviously feel at the centre of his life. And I thank him for that... Could this be the reason why I can’t stand people who cannot listen?


Fin da bambina ho sentito e verificato che, per quanto Papà fosse occupato a fare scoperte geniali e si trovasse, con la mente, a molti metri da terra, era per me sempre raggiungibile.

Quando avevo bisogno di lui, tanto per una sciocchezza da bimba quanto per qualcosa di più rilevante, Papà mi dedicava tutto il tempo e l’attenzione necessaria, indipendentemente dall’importanza assoluta della questione posta e questo, ovviamente, mi faceva sentire centrale nella sua vita. E di questo lo ringrazio……Sarà per questo che non ho mai potuto sopportare chi non è capace di porre attenzione nell’ascolto?


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more thoughts about Corrado

 

Corrado Böhm’s bio and bibliography

Corrado and other oustanding italian minds

in the WCC 2008 poster.  (click to see larger picture)

Email Me

Eva, his wife

With his grandchildren in Zurich (2002)

On his 80th birthday, with some of his closest former students January 2003

(click on pictures to see larger view)

In Crete, at the ceremony where he was granted The award of the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science. 

http://www.eatcs.org/index.php/eatcs-award     (2002)

With wife Eva and daughter Ariela at an exhibition of works by the latter (2003)

Photo Album

(click on pictures  to see larger view)

More Pictures...Photos.htmlPhotos.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

Corrado “entangled”

In Zurich, with sons Michele and Emanuele and with Francesca (2002)

With wife Eva and friend and relative Rita Levi Montalcini (2009)

With his family

Made on a Mac
After the awards at the POPL 2013 Conference in Rome, that took place in January, on March 22nd, the ETAPS Conference will again celebrate Corrado’s career on his 90th birthday year. Photos and video of POPL  here and here. We will post photos and video from ETAPS after the event.
http://livepage.apple.com/PoPl2013_i_90.htmlPoPL2.htmlhttp://www.etaps.org/shapeimage_4_link_0shapeimage_4_link_1shapeimage_4_link_2
Congratulations to Silvio Micali, whose brilliant research and findings won him this year the most prestigious 
Turing Award!
Micali wrote his graduation thesis under the supervision of Corrado. The thesis was published on the JSL. You can find it here http://bit.ly/11aYGgF . A picture of young Silvio Micali here. here11aYGgFservice=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=euclid.jsl/1183740519) sotto la direzione di Corrado Bohm
http://bit.ly/11aYGgFPhotos.htmlPhotos.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0shapeimage_5_link_1
An open λ-problem that I propose to young researchers, actually you’ll find a few here, mine is number 24:
 http://tlca.di.unito.it/opltlca/http://tlca.di.unito.it/opltlca/shapeimage_6_link_0