Peter Naur

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Peter Naur (born October 25, 1928) is a Danish pioneer in computer science and Turing award winner. His last name is the N in the BNF notation (Backus-Naur form), used in the description of the syntax for most programming languages. He contributed to the creation of the ALGOL 60 programming language.

He began his career as an astronomer for which he received his PhD degree in 1957, but his encounter with computers led to a change of profession. From 1959 to 1969 he was employed at Regnecentralen, the Danish computing institute, while at the same time giving lectures at the Niels Bohr Institute and the Technical University of Denmark. From 1969 to 1998 Peter was a professor of computer science at University of Copenhagen.

His main areas of inquiry are design, structure and performance of computer programs and algorithms. Areas such as software engineering and software architecture have also been pioneered by Naur. In his book Computing: A Human Activity (1992), which is a collection of his contributions to computer science, he rejects the formalist school of programming that view programming as a branch of mathematics. He does not like being associated with the Backus-Naur form (attributed to him by Donald Knuth) and says that he would prefer it to be called the Backus Normal Form.

Naur dislikes the very term computer science and suggests it be called datalogy. This term has also been adopted in Denmark and in Sweden as datalogi.

In later years he has also been quite outspoken of the pursuit of science as a whole: Naur can possibly be identified with the empiricist school, that tells that one shall not seek deeper connections between things that manifest themselves in the world, but keep to the observable facts. He has attacked both certain strands of philosophy and psychology from this viewpoint. He is also currently developing a theory of human thinking which he calls Synapse-State Theory of Mental Life.

Naur won the 2005 ACM A.M. Turing Award for his work on defining the ALGOL 60 programming language. [1] In particular, his role as editor of the influential "Report on the Algorithmic Language ALGOL 60" with its pioneering use of BNF was recognized. Naur is the only Dane to have won the Turing Award.


Numbers refer to the published bibliography. Peter Naur published a large number of articles and chapters on astronomy, computer science, issues in society, classical music, psychology, and education.

  • 66. Minor planet 51 Nemausa and the fundamental system of declinations, PhD thesis, 1957
  • 95. (editor) "Report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 60", 1960, published in several journals, including Communication of the ACM 3, 5 (May 1960), pp. 299–314
  • 128. (editor) "Revised report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 60", Communications of the ACM 6, 1 (Jan. 1963), pp. 1–17
  • 144. "Go to statements and good Algol style", BIT 3 (1963), pp. 204–205
  • 212. (editor with B. Randell and J. N. Buxton) Software Engineering, 231 p., 1969, republished 1976
  • 213. (with C. Gram, J. Hald, H. B. Hansen and A. Wessel) Datamatik, Studentlitteratur, 1969
  • 247, 249. (with B. Pedersen) Matematik 4 kursusbog, 2 volumes, Copenhagen University, 1971, 2nd ed. 1972
  • 264. Concise Survey of Computer Methods, 397 p., Studentlitteratur, 1974
  • 274. Datalogi 2 1975/76, 102 p., Copenhagen University, 1975, new edition 1976
  • 333. Computing: A Human Activity, 656 p., ACM Press/Addison-Wesley, 1992
  • 347. Knowing and the Mystique of Logic and Rules, 365 p., Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995
  • 363. Antifilosofisk leksikon: Tænkning - sproglighed - videnskabelighed, 111 p., 1999, ISBN 87-987221-0-7; English translation 2001, ISBN 87-987221-1-5
  • 382. Psykologi i videnskabelig rekonstruktion, 113 p., 2002, ISBN 87-987221-2-3
  • Naur, P. 2007. Computing versus human thinking. Commun. ACM 50, 1 (Jan. 2007), 85–94. DOI=

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