Dr Alastair Donaldson presents Roger Needham Lecture 2017

Many-core programming: How to go really fast without crashing

17 October 2017

An internationally leading researcher in the field of many-core programming will present this year’s BCS Roger Needham Lecture. Dr Alastair Donaldson, the 2017 winner of the Roger Needham Award, will present his lecture entitled “Many-core programming: How to go really fast without crashing” on 20 November 2017 at The Royal Society in London.

Alastair Donaldson, a Reader and EPSRC Early Career Fellow in the Department of Computing, Imperial College London, where he leads the Multicore Programming Group, was awarded the BCS Roger Needham Award for 2017 in recognition of his outstanding work in the area of many-core programming, to which he has made a distinguished contribution through his design and application of rigorous program analysis methods. His techniques and case studies have also made a major contribution to fundamental Computer Science research.

In his lecture, Alastair will explain more about his work. He says: “Software must be reliable, working well enough, enough of the time. Software also needs to be efficient if it is to be useful. In some domains - robotic surgery, or self-driving cars, to name two examples - software needs to be both very efficient and very reliable. Due to the wide range of devices on which software now runs, software portability is also highly desirable.

Unfortunately, these three requirements - reliability, efficiency and portability - are often at odds with each other. This is particularly the case in the world of "many-core" architectures, which use large numbers of processing elements to compute results in a highly parallel fashion. Many-core architectures can be used to accelerate software so that it runs very efficiently, and are present in every modern desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.

Many-core programming languages are usually low-level, providing the "close-to-the-metal" capabilities needed for high performance. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to write portable many-core software, and the difficulty of low-level programming means that it is easy to accidentally introduce subtle errors into an application.

This has led to an interest in higher-level languages that offer better portability and reduce the scope for programmer errors, but which must be "compiled" down to lower-level forms. While appealing, such languages lead to layers of abstraction, and reliability suffers due to errors in translating code across abstraction layers.

My lecture will focus on the challenges of "going really fast without crashing" in the context of many-core systems. I will use practical examples to demonstrate the main problems associated with programming many-core systems. I will then showcase three different areas where my research group and I have contributed to getting a handle on these problems: (1) static analysis for low-level many-core code, (2) a high-level programming model for portable programming, and (3) a "fuzzing" technique to identify bugs in many-core compilers.”

Andy Gordon, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research Cambridge says: “Alastair’s pioneering work is extremely important to the future of building efficient next-generation software. His research into many-core processors found in most consumer devices will greatly enhance how communities across the world communicate with each other. Alastair is a very deserving winner of the prestigious Roger Needham Award and we very much look forward to his lecture.”

The Roger Needham Award is sponsored by Microsoft Research Cambridge and established in memory of Microsoft’s first director of research outside the US. It is awarded for a distinguished research contribution in computer science by a UK based researcher within ten years of their PhD.

Needham Lecture details:
20 November 2017
Venue: The Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG
Time: 6.00pm to 9.30pm
Price: £5 BCS member - lecture only, £15 BCS non-member - lecture only, £10 BCS member lecture/buffet reception, £30 BCS non-member - lecture / buffet reception

For more information and to register visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/2017-needham-lecture-tickets-5331350212#tickets

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