ACM SIGACT awards its 2016 Distinguished Service Prize to László Babai of the University of Chicago for helping to make the latest theoretical computer science results accessible to all researchers.
László Babai has been a leading advocate for open access in the theoretical computer science community. After serving as program committee chair of the 2004 ACM STOC conference, Babai at the business meeting set out an argument for a truly open-access, high-quality electronic journal in theoretical computer science and his intent to create such a publication. The following year he gave birth to Theory of Computing and Babai continues to serve as its founding editor-in-chief. Theory of Computing has become one of the strong, mainstream academic journals in theoretical computer science remaining at no cost to authors, readers or libraries. To create and maintain this journal, Babai inspired a number of computer scientists, including many from the STOC PC, to serve as editors and manage the web presence and authoring/reviewing tools. Theory of Computing is a shining example of how a visionary leader and a dedicated group of volunteers can create and maintain a high-quality fully open access journal.
Babai's early efforts for open access go back decades. For many years, Babai ran the global SIGACT conference proceedings donation program to expand the availability of theoretical computer science research. Major conferences in the field would send their excess printed proceedings to libraries throughout the world that could not afford subscriptions. This program continued under several organizers until there were no longer paper or CD proceedings to send out. From 1991 to 1998, under the aegis of ACM, Babai also organized and ran a journal subscription donation program for ACM and SIAM journals to assist university libraries across Central and Eastern Europe hit by hard economic times after the Cold War.
In 1985, Babai helped establish the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics, a program for undergraduate students to “study in the country of Paul Erdös” as Babai put it in the first BSM literature. Babai designed the initial curriculum and served as the program coordinator, and recruited volunteers mainly among Erdös’s collaborators to help get the program off the ground. Today the Budapest Semesters program continues to inspire young minds and many of the program’s alumni have gone on to become well-established mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists in their own right.
This award honors László Babai’s commitment to finding original ways to increase the broad distribution of theoretical computer science knowledge, his almost superhuman dedication of energy and time to these efforts, and his inspiration of others to join him in making these projects successful.