Peter J. Denning

PETER J. DENNING is Distinguished Professor, Chair of the Computer Science Department, and Director of the Cebrowski Institute for Innovation at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

He has been a leading engineer and scientist in computing since his graduation from MIT in 1968. At MIT he discovered the locality principle for how computations access storage objects and from it invented the influential working set model for program behavior. His original paper received the ACM systems best paper award for 1968 and was named to the Operating Systems Hall of Fame in 2005. The working set model became the universal reference model for memory management and the heart of memory caching systems, which are now deeply embedded into all computers and the Internet. He contributed important extensions to operational analysis, an approach to computing system performance prediction that overcame strong limitations of stochastic queueing models. He co-founded CSNET, the first open community research network based on ARPANET technology and a key transition from the ARPANET to the NSFNET. CSNET received the Internet Society's Postel Award in 2009. He led the Digital Library project for the Association for Computing Machinery; the ACM DL was the first complete digital library among professional societies and it set new standards for online publication and distribution of scientific information. He was founding Director of the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) at NASA-Ames, one of the first centers in computational science. He currently leads the Innovation Project, which is identifying and teaching foundational practices of innovation and is now exploring the consequences of interpreting innovation as emergence rather than idea creation. This work led to his book with Bob Dunham, The Innovator's Way (2010). He also currently leads the Great Principles of Computing project, which has gathered and focused the timeless basic principles of computing, contributed to a new image and respect for computing, and seeded the national movement to revamp the high-school Advanced Placement Curriculum and the development of CS principles courses at major universities. This work led to his book with Craig Martell, Great Principles of Computing (2015).

He has served in numerous leadership positions within the Association for Computing Machine since 1967, including President. He has received 26 awards including three honorary degrees, three professional society fellowships, six technical contributions, six distinguished service, seven education awards, and a customer quality service award.

Academics. Denning has been part of academic teaching and research since graduating MIT. He was at Princeton (1968-72) during the formative stages of its computer science department. He was at Purdue (1972-1983), the nation's first CS department; he was department head for his final four years there. He was founding director of RIACS, an institute of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at NASA-Ames Research Center (1983-1991), where he formed and led interdisciplinary teams in computational science with NASA. He was at George Mason University (1991-2002), where he was Computer Science Department chair, Associate Dean for Computing, Vice Provost for Continuing Professional Education, Chair of the Technology Council, and special assistant to the vice president for information technology. He founded the Center for the New Engineer in 1993, later renamed the Hyperlearning Center. He and his partner, Danny Menasce, pioneered in educational technologies including web-based interactive tutorials (1994), a network linking K12 schools to the Internet (1995), and the Hyperlearning Meter (1996), a system for online self-assessment and certification. The Hyperlearning Center site was recognized in 2015 by Stanford University Libraries, which is archiving "first of" web sites, as the first site to offer onling competency based learning modules. These technologies were ahead of their time and are now appearing in MOOCs and commercial online competency-based modules. He joined the Naval Postgraduate School (2002) as chair of the CS department. He became director of the Cebrowski Institute (2003), chair of the faculty council (2007), and distinguished professor (2007).

Education. Throughout his career, Denning has been noted for leadership in computer science education. He successfully advocated that operating systems principles be part of the core curriculum (1971), led a successful movement for recognition of experimental computer science (1980), co-founded the first computing community research network CSNET (1981), organized a new framework for the computing core curriculum (1989), proposed reforms to engineering education (1992) and helped implement them at a private university (2003), sought recognition of information technology as a profession (1998), designed model curricula for IT degree programs (2000), and initiated a movement to collect and record the great principles of computing (2003). At GMU he was named one of the top 10 teachers for 2001; he received a GMU Teaching Excellence Award in 2002 and was named Outstanding Teacher in the IT&E School in the same year. In January 2003, the Commonwealth of Virginia honored him as one of the ten best teachers in the state. He was selected as one of NSF's two Distinguished Education Fellows (2007) and led an NSF project to stimulate more innovation in computing education and establish a base of CS principles for use by all teachers from K-12 through university (2010).

Research. Denning was a pioneer in the early development of operating systems. As noted, he invented the working set model for program behavior (1967), established a solid science basis for virtual memory (1970), and demonstrated the optimality of working set memory management (1980); these works put the terms working set, locality, and thrashing into the standard lexicon of computer science. He designed computer architectures that supported operating systems (1978). He also pioneered in the development of performance models for computer systems and (with Jeff Buzen) co-developed important extensions of operational analysis of queueing networks (1975-80).

While director of RIACS (1983-91) he formed interdisciplinary teams in comutational science and high performance computing. At George Mason (1991-2002) he pioneered in distance learning technologies, started the innovation project, and created Sense 21, an alumni group of graduates of a design course he created based in a language-action interpretation of the world. At NPS, his thesis students have investigated how modern versions of the capability-addressing principle can solve secure information storage problems in cloud systems. He is the leader of a campus faculty group on data science with over 90 members.

Profession. Denning has served continuously as a volunteer for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) since 1967. He edited the SICTIME newsletter in 1967 and led the conversion of SICTIME to SIGOPS as its chair in 1969. He was founding chair of the SIG Board (1970-74). He was president 1980-82 and vice president 1978-80. As chair of the ACM publications board 1992-98 he led the development of the ACM Digital Library, now regarded as ACM's crown jewel. As Editor-in-Chief of the monthly ACM Communications (1983-92), he led its transition from research journal to award-winning magazine. He founded the ACM Information Technology Profession Initiative (1999-2001). He chaired the ACM Education Board (2000-04); the board produced Curriculum 2001, a major curriculum revision compatible with other IT disciplines. In 2003 he started the Great Principles of Computing project, an ongoing project to gather and focus the timeless principles of computing and provide a common scientific language for discussing information procesess among scientific fields (see the project web site). He co-authored the Great Principles book. He is editor-in-chief of the ACM online magazine Ubiquity, which is about the future of computing and the people who are inventing it.

Defense and Security. At the NPS, Denning led the Cebrowski Institute into research on the architecture of battlespace communication systems and organized a World Wide Consortium for the Grid (W2COG) for the DoD. He also founded the Hastily Formed Networks Project, which studies and tests networks formed during crises or urgent events to coordinate many organizations in disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and military operations. He initiated the Innovation Project, which is devoted to understanding innovation as emergence around contingencies, and teaching innovation as a skill set that mobilizes people into emerging new practices. He developed a great priniciples of computing technology course for incoming graduate students. He founded a project on global security and network science, which is using network science as the basis to develop new approaches to avoiding conflicts and crises.

Publications. Denning has published 10 books and 390 articles on computers, networks, and their operating systems. His most recent book is Great Principles of Computing, a comprehensive examination of the science and engineering principles of the computing field (2015). With Bob Dunham, he published The Innovator's Way, which demonstrated how innovation is a skill set that anyone can learn by engaging with eight foundational practices (2010). He compiled three books about the future of computing: The Invisible Future (2001), Talking Back to the Machine (1999), and Beyond Calculation (1997) examine the next fifty years of computing. He created on online book The Art of Operating Systems (2002), which presents elegant models for major components of operating systems (click here).

Awards and Honors. Denning has received 26 awards for professional and technical contributions since 1959 (click here). He was elected Distinguished Professor at NPS in 2007.

Contact Information. Denning is on the faculty of the Naval Postgraduate School. You can contact him at or 831-656-3603.