John Backus's Turing Award Lecture

John Backus's Turing Award Lecture was a watershed for the programming-language community because the inventor of FORTRAN, which was the dominant programming language of the day, stepped forward and said that the main stream of programming practice was flowing in a most unproductive direction. His lecture "Can Programming Be Liberated From the von Neumann Style?" was developed into a fairly technical paper which opened the floodgates for a torrent of intellectual activity that continues to this day.

While Backus's message remains as relevant as ever (simply substitute "object-oriented languages" for "conventional languages"), the technical work has worn less well.

Backus's original proposals, while tremendously important to the development of a young field, are now taken for granted. Much of the most exciting work builds on two ideas brought to fruition after Backus's lecture: polymorphic type systems with type inference, and algebraic data types with pattern matching.