University of Texas at Austin


Keshav Pingali Receives Ken Kennedy Award for High Performance and Parallel Computing

By Aira Balasubramanian

Published Oct. 4, 2023

Keshav Pingali. Credit: Joanne Foote

It’s 4 a.m. in Italy. Jet lagged before a conference, Keshav Pingali, professor of Computer Science and core faculty member at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, found himself unable to sleep. His response to this restlessness will feel familiar to many a reader: he opened his laptop to check his email. Pingali was met with a delightful surprise in his inbox - a message from the chair of the ACM/IEEE Ken Kennedy Award informing him that he was the recipient of the 2023 prize. 

The Ken Kennedy Award highlights groundbreaking achievements in high performance and parallel computing, a technique which allows many computational processes to be carried out simultaneously. Pingali has been recognized for his vast contributions to the field, including work on programming languages, compilers, and runtime systems for multicore, manycore, and distributed computers. His work has been incorporated into a majority of open source and commercial compilers and is used widely in research and industry. 

His most recent research has focused on foundational parallel programming abstractions and implementations for irregular algorithms, which use complex data structures like sparse matrices and graphs. Pingali’s “operator formulation of algorithms” is a programming and execution model that captures patterns of parallelism in these irregular algorithms, where traditional techniques used to parallelize regular dense matrix algorithms typically fail. 

Pingali, who holds the W.A “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. Chair in Distributed and Grid Computing at The University of Texas at Austin, is also being recognized for his leadership on the Galois Project, which implements the model for use in diverse areas, including real-time intrusion detection in computer networks, parallel tools for asynchronous circuit design, and machine learning on graphs for drug discovery. 

His success with his project was hard fought. While “The TAO of Parallelism in Algorithms,” is now one of Pingali’s most highly cited papers, the results were not initially considered to be of mainstream interest in parallel programming. He remembers the work being “rejected from seven or eight conferences before it was finally accepted at PLDI, a top conference in parallel programming.” 

The late Ken Kennedy was a professor at Rice University and a major figure in parallel programming whom I knew quite well, so I felt honored to have received the award named for him.

— Keshav Pingali

The acceptance opened a gateway that made it easier to publish results and develop the project. Now, in the midst of receiving the Ken Kennedy Award for his efforts, Pingali has been met with feelings of joy, honor, and a slight touch of vindication after “persevering through setbacks and rejections!” 

“The late Ken Kennedy was a professor at Rice University and a major figure in parallel programming whom I knew quite well, so I felt honored to have received the award named for him,” Pingali said.

Pingali's other awards include: Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a Foreign Member of the Academia Europaea, and a Distinguished Alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.  In March 2023, he was awarded the IEEE Charles Babbage award.

The Ken Kennedy Award is co-sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and IEEE CS, which was established in 2009 to recognize substantial contributions to programmability and productivity in computing and significant community service or mentoring contributions. It was named for the late Ken Kennedy, founder of Rice University’s computer science program and a world expert on high performance computing. The Kennedy Award carries a US $5,000 honorarium endowed by IEEE CS and ACM. The award will be formally presented to Pingali in November at The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis (SC23)