The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Computer Scientists of all time. This list of famous American Computer Scientists is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Computer Scientists.
With an HPI of 80.62, Grace Hopper is the most famous American Computer Scientist. Her biography has been translated into 63 different languages on wikipedia.
Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (née Murray December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. Hopper was the first to devise the theory of machine-independent programming languages, and the FLOW-MATIC programming language she created using this theory was later extended to create COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today. Prior to joining the Navy, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected because she was 34 years old. She instead joined the Navy Reserves. Hopper began her computing career in 1944 when she worked on the Harvard Mark I team led by Howard H. Aiken. In 1949, she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation and was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer. At Eckert–Mauchly she managed the development of one of the first COBOL compilers. She believed that a programming language based on English was possible. Her compiler converted English terms into machine code understood by computers. By 1952, Hopper had finished her program linker (originally called a compiler), which was written for the A-0 System. During her wartime service, she co-authored three papers based on her work on the Harvard Mark 1. In 1954, Eckert–Mauchly chose Hopper to lead their department for automatic programming, and she led the release of some of the first compiled languages like FLOW-MATIC. In 1959, she participated in the CODASYL consortium, which consulted Hopper to guide them in creating a machine-independent programming language. This led to the COBOL language, which was inspired by her idea of a language being based on English words. In 1966, she retired from the Naval Reserve, but in 1967 the Navy recalled her to active duty. She retired from the Navy in 1986 and found work as a consultant for the Digital Equipment Corporation, sharing her computing experiences. The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her, as was the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC. During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world. A college at Yale University was renamed in her honor. In 1991, she received the National Medal of Technology. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
With an HPI of 74.41, Dennis Ritchie is the 2nd most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 80 different languages.
Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie (September 9, 1941 – c. October 12, 2011) was an American computer scientist. He created the C programming language and, with long-time colleague Ken Thompson, the Unix operating system and B programming language. Ritchie and Thompson were awarded the Turing Award from the ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton in 1999. Ritchie was the head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department when he retired in 2007. He was the "R" in K&R C, and commonly known by his username dmr.
With an HPI of 73.97, Richard Stallman is the 3rd most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 105 different languages.
Richard Matthew Stallman (; born March 16, 1953), also known by his initials, rms, is an American free software movement activist and programmer. He campaigns for software to be distributed in a manner such that its users receive the freedoms to use, study, distribute, and modify that software. Software that ensures these freedoms is termed free software. Stallman launched the GNU Project, founded the Free Software Foundation, developed the GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Emacs, and wrote the GNU General Public License. Stallman launched the GNU Project in September 1983 to write a Unix-like computer operating system composed entirely of free software. With this, he also launched the free software movement. He has been the GNU project's lead architect and organizer, and developed a number of pieces of widely used GNU software including, among others, the GNU Compiler Collection, GNU Debugger, and GNU Emacs text editor. In October 1985 he founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Stallman pioneered the concept of copyleft, which uses the principles of copyright law to preserve the right to use, modify, and distribute free software. He is the main author of free software licenses which describe those terms, most notably the GNU General Public License (GPL), the most widely used free software license.In 1989, he co-founded the League for Programming Freedom. Since the mid-1990s, Stallman has spent most of his time advocating for free software, as well as campaigning against software patents, digital rights management (which he refers to as digital restrictions management, calling the more common term misleading), and other legal and technical systems which he sees as taking away users' freedoms. This has included software license agreements, non-disclosure agreements, activation keys, dongles, copy restriction, proprietary formats, and binary executables without source code. In September 2019, Stallman resigned as president of the FSF and left his "visiting scientist" role at MIT after making controversial comments about the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking scandal. Stallman remained head of the GNU Project, and in 2021 returned to the FSF board of directors.
With an HPI of 72.89, Donald Knuth is the 4th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 73 different languages.
Donald Ervin Knuth ( kə-NOOTH; born January 10, 1938) is an American computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford University. He is the 1974 recipient of the ACM Turing Award, informally considered the Nobel Prize of computer science. Knuth has been called the "father of the analysis of algorithms".He is the author of the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming. He contributed to the development of the rigorous analysis of the computational complexity of algorithms and systematized formal mathematical techniques for it. In the process he also popularized the asymptotic notation. In addition to fundamental contributions in several branches of theoretical computer science, Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system, the related METAFONT font definition language and rendering system, and the Computer Modern family of typefaces. As a writer and scholar, Knuth created the WEB and CWEB computer programming systems designed to encourage and facilitate literate programming, and designed the MIX/MMIX instruction set architectures. Knuth strongly opposes the granting of software patents, having expressed his opinion to the United States Patent and Trademark Office and European Patent Organisation.
With an HPI of 70.91, John McCarthy is the 5th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 50 different languages.
John McCarthy (September 4, 1927 – October 24, 2011) was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. McCarthy was one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence. He co-authored the document that coined the term "artificial intelligence" (AI), developed the Lisp programming language family, significantly influenced the design of the ALGOL programming language, popularized time-sharing, and invented garbage collection. McCarthy spent most of his career at Stanford University. He received many accolades and honors, such as the 1971 Turing Award for his contributions to the topic of AI, the United States National Medal of Science, and the Kyoto Prize.
With an HPI of 69.63, Ken Thompson is the 6th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.
Kenneth Lane Thompson (born February 4, 1943) is an American pioneer of computer science. Thompson worked at Bell Labs for most of his career where he designed and implemented the original Unix operating system. He also invented the B programming language, the direct predecessor to the C programming language, and was one of the creators and early developers of the Plan 9 operating system. Since 2006, Thompson has worked at Google, where he co-invented the Go programming language. Other notable contributions included his work on regular expressions and early computer text editors QED and ed, the definition of the UTF-8 encoding, and his work on computer chess that included the creation of endgame tablebases and the chess machine Belle. He won the Turing Award in 1983 with his long-term colleague Dennis Ritchie.
With an HPI of 69.48, Ray Kurzweil is the 7th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.
Raymond Kurzweil ( KURZ-wyle; born February 12, 1948) is an American inventor and futurist. He is involved in fields such as optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments. He has written books on health, artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism, the technological singularity, and futurism. Kurzweil is a public advocate for the futurist and transhumanist movements and gives public talks to share his optimistic outlook on life extension technologies and the future of nanotechnology, robotics, and biotechnology. Kurzweil received the 1999 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the United States' highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony. He was the recipient of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for 2001. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2001 for the application of technology to improve human-machine communication. In 2002 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, established by the U.S. Patent Office. He has received 21 honorary doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) included Kurzweil as one of 16 "revolutionaries who made America" along with other inventors of the past two centuries. Inc. magazine ranked him #8 among the "most fascinating" entrepreneurs in the United States and called him "Edison's rightful heir".
With an HPI of 69.22, Andrew S. Tanenbaum is the 8th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.
Andrew Stuart Tanenbaum (born March 16, 1944), sometimes referred to by the handle ast, is an American-Dutch computer scientist and professor emeritus of computer science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands.He is best known as the author of MINIX, a free Unix-like operating system for teaching purposes, and for his computer science textbooks, regarded as standard texts in the field. He regards his teaching job as his most important work. Since 2004 he has operated Electoral-vote.com, a website dedicated to analysis of polling data in federal elections in the United States.
With an HPI of 68.95, Vint Cerf is the 9th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 48 different languages.
Vinton Gray Cerf (; born June 23, 1943) is an American Internet pioneer and is recognized as one of "the fathers of the Internet", sharing this title with TCP/IP co-developer Bob Kahn. He has received honorary degrees and awards that include the National Medal of Technology, the Turing Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Marconi Prize and membership in the National Academy of Engineering.
With an HPI of 68.69, George Dantzig is the 10th most famous American Computer Scientist. His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.
George Bernard Dantzig (; November 8, 1914 – May 13, 2005) was an American mathematical scientist who made contributions to industrial engineering, operations research, computer science, economics, and statistics. Dantzig is known for his development of the simplex algorithm, an algorithm for solving linear programming problems, and for his other work with linear programming. In statistics, Dantzig solved two open problems in statistical theory, which he had mistaken for homework after arriving late to a lecture by Jerzy Neyman.At his death, Dantzig was the Professor Emeritus of Transportation Sciences and Professor of Operations Research and of Computer Science at Stanford University.
Pantheon has 109 people classified as computer scientists born between 1894 and 1989. Of these 109, 71 (65.14%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living computer scientists include Richard Stallman, Donald Knuth, and Ken Thompson. The most famous deceased computer scientists include Grace Hopper, Dennis Ritchie, and John McCarthy. As of October 2020, 7 new computer scientists have been added to Pantheon including Larry Tesler, Gil Amelio, and Annie Easley.
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Which Computer Scientists were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Computer Scientists since 1700.