Corrado Böhm's PhD, a translation
- Corrado Böhm: Digital computers. On encoding
logical-mathematical formulas using the machine itself during
program conception. Translated 2016 by Peter Sestoft from
Corrado Böhm: Calculatrices digitales. Du déchiffrage de
formules logico-mathématiques par la machine même dans la
conception du programme. PhD dissertation ETH Zürich 1951. French
original published in Bologna 1954.
- An implementation of Böhm's machine, loader and compiler will be
available from this page.
- From the translator's remarks
Böhm (born 17 January 1923) completed his PhD dissertation at ETH
Zürich in late 1951 under the supervision of E. Stiefel and
P. Bernays. This translation from the French is based on the
1954 version at the ETHZ website.
Böhm's PhD dissertation was completed shortly after David
Wheeler's August 1951 Cambridge dissertation and so is probably only
the second one in computer science. In addition to its historical
interest, Böhm's dissertation is a stellar example of conceptual and
notational economy. In just 46 pages, it presents (a) an abstract
machine, quite faithful to contemporary real stored-program machines
such as the IAS design from Princeton, the EDVAC in Philadelphia and
the EDSAC in Cambridge, but with index instructions like the
Manchester Mark 1; (b) a simple but complete programming language,
including parenthesized arithmetic expressions; (c) a loader program
similar to Wilkes's for the EDSAC; and (d) a compiler from the
language to the abstract machine's instruction set, where - also a
first - the compiler is written in the compiled language itself.
Contribution (a) is in chapter 1; (b) in chapters 2 and 3; (c) in
chapter 4; and (d) in chapters 5 through 7.
For historical context, the other doctoral students of Bernays are
Julius Büchi, Haskell Curry, Erwin Engeler, Gerhard Gentzen and
Saunders Mac Lane.
Böhm's early work does not seem to have received the attention it
deserves, although it features prominently in Don Knuth's survey
The early development of programming languages in Encyclopedia
of Computer Science and Technology, volume 7, 1977, 419-493.
It is my hope that this English translation will make Corrado Böhm's
dissertation accessible to a wider audience.