Peter Neumann to Speak 4/11/2008 at 3 PM

Peter G. Neumann

HCS regularly brings in interesting speakers on topics in computer science, technology, and their relationship with the rest of the world. This month, we're proud to be hosting Peter G. Neumann, one of the original developers of Multics, moderator of the ACM Risks Forum, and a graduate of Harvard. Dr. Neumann will speak about his personal experience with mathematical computer science and will present short stories on lots of exciting topics (read on to find out what). We'll also have plenty of time for questions and discussion. We'll likely go to dinner afterwards.

Date: April 11, 2008
Time: 3:00 PM
Place: Maxwell-Dworkin 119 (the Grace Murray Hopper Memorial Conference Room)


A Short Personal View of
Mathematical Beauty in Computer Science

Peter G Neumann (Harvard '54, SM '55, PhD '61)
SRI International Computer Science Lab
Menlo Park CA 94025-3493, 1-650-859-2375

Harvard Computer Society, April 11, 2008
Maxwell-Dworkin 119, 33 Oxford St., 3-5pm

This is intended to be a free-wheeling discusion of a few
elegant roles of mathematics in computer science. It might
include any of the following suggested topics, according to the
interests and experiences of the group, and the time available.
Join us for an early dinner if you wish.

* Error-correcting codes: Huffman's simple graphic depiction of the
basic Hamming code. Huffman's little-known nonoptimal but very
clever graph-based codes, where the minimum distance of the code is
the smallest loop in the graph. Group-theoretic codes became the
norm in the 1960s (Galois fields, etc.). There are also some links
with cryptography -- which is its own mecca of mathematical
mechanizations (Chris Peikert's MIT thesis).

* A clever application of a surprisingly counterintuitive solution to
a variant of the hat problem with 2**m-1 people where only one
guess is permitted overall from the group. Intuition says maybe
the probability of success is one-half. Hamming codes are the
basis for an algorithm for achieving a probability of success just
less than one! See Mira Bernstein, The Hat Problem and Hamming
Codes, Focus, The Newsletter of the Mathematical Association of
America, 21, 8, November 2001, pp. 4-6.

* An interesting link between a quasi-Fibonacci linear recursion and
primes, a union of additive and multiplicative properties: f(n) =
f(n-3) + f(n-4) for n>3, f(0)=4, f(1)=f(2)=0, f(3)=3 has the property
that f(p) is a multiple of p whenever p is a prime! This was MAA Math
Monthly problem 10655, with two proofs given in the March 2000 issue.
Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science has a somewhat simpler similar
example on page 891. (He suggested to me that the recursive sequences
on pages 131 and 907 also merit consideration.)

* Statistical linguistics: An interesting but almost unknown 1957
derivation of Zipf-Pareto-Mandelbrot formulas by Vitold Belevitch
(On the Statistical Laws of Linguistic Distributions, Annals of the
Society of Science, Brussels, Belgium, 73, III, 1959,
pp. 310--326), and the relationship with power laws. Tony
Oettinger got me started on that in his mid-1950s courses on
statistical linguistics.

* A mid-1950s effort to model common-meter hymn tunes using Markov
chain probabilities, and synthesize new tunes of varying constraint
lengths, by Fred Brooks, Al Hopkins, PGN, and Bill Wright on the
Harvard Mark IV: An Experiment in Musical Composition, IRE
Transactions on Electronic Computers, EC-6, September 1957,
pp. 175-182. Also inspired by Tony Oettinger's StatLing course.

* Some thoughts on composable architectures for developing
trustworthy computer systems, including formal methods for
analyzing complex systems. See
P.G. Neumann, Principled assuredly trustworthy composable
architectures, Technical report, Computer Science Laboratory,
SRI International, Menlo Park, California, December 2004., .pdf, and .ps.
P.G. Neumann and R.S. Boyer and R.J. Feiertag and K.N. Levitt
and L. Robinson, A Provably Secure Operating System: The
System, Its Applications, and Proofs, Computer Science
Laboratory, SRI International, Menlo Park, California, Report
CSL-116 May 1980. Tagged strongly typed capabilities.
Perhaps dated, but ground-breaking.

* My Multics experience with F.J. Corbato, Ted Glaser, Jerry Saltzer, Bob
Daley, at MIT, Vic Vyssotsky, Joe Ossanna, Ken Thompson at Bell Labs,
and many others, clearly made on enormous impact on appreciating the
importance of elegant system architectures and structured development

* Huffman's continuous deformations of semirigid surfaces and
amazing artistic creations. D.A. Huffman, Curvatures and
Creases: A Primer on Paper, IEEE Transactions on Computers,
C-25, 10, pp. 1010--1019, October 1975. (I have some
fascinating slides of curved surfaces that almost defy belief
-- unless you have read the paper.)

* One other relevant reference:
W.H.J. Feijen, A.J.M. van Gasteren, D. Gries, and J. Misra, editors,
Beauty is our Business, A Birthday Salute to Edsger W. Dijkstra,
Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 11 May 1990. (I contributed
Chapter 39, Beauty and the Beast of Software Complexity:
Elegance versus Elephants.)

* As EXAMPLES of what the lack of beauty can mean, a large collection
of misuses of mathematics and the lack of sensible system
development are found in the ACM Risks Forum archives
( These include major problems in our
infrastructures and user applications, relating to safety,
security, reliability, and particularly the lack of integrity and
accountability in very badly designed election systems.

BIO: After 8 years at Harvard, 2 years on a Fulbright, two
doctorates, ten years at Bell Labs in Murray Hill (where I was
heavily involved in the Multics development jointly with MIT and
Honeywell), and a year teaching at Berkeley, I've been in SRI's
Computer Science Lab since September 1971. I tend to work on
computer systems and networks, trustworthiness, high assurance,
security, reliability, survivability, safety, and many risks-related
issues such as voting-system integrity, crypto policy, social
implications, and human needs including privacy. I moderate the ACM
Risks Forum, edit CACM's Inside Risks columns, chair the ACM
Committee on Computers and Public Policy, and chair the National
Committee for Voting Integrity ( I
created ACM SIGSOFT's Software Engineering Notes in 1976, was its
editor for 19 years, and still contribute the RISKS section. I'm on
the editorial board of IEEE Security and Privacy. I've participated
in four studies for the National Academies of Science: Multilevel
Data Management Security (1982), Computers at Risk (1991),
Cryptography's Role in Securing the Information Society (1996), and
Improving Cybersecurity for the 21st Century: Rationalizing the
Agenda (2007). My 1995 book, Computer-Related Risks, is still
timely. I'm is a Fellow of the ACM, IEEE, and AAAS, and also an SRI
Fellow. I received the National Computer System Security Award in
2002 and the ACM SIGSAC Outstanding Contributions Award in 2005. I'm
a member of the U.S. Government Accountability Office Executive
Council on Information Management and Technology, and the California
Office of Privacy Protection advisory council. I co-founded People
For Internet Responsibility (PFIR, I have
taught courses at Darmstadt, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, and the
University of Maryland. My website (
has testimonies for the U.S. Senate and House and California state
Senate and Legislature, papers, bibliography, further background, etc.