SAN FRANCISCO — In 1980, Dave Patterson, a computer science professor, looked at the future of the world’s digital machines and saw their limits. With an academic paper published that October, he argued that the silicon chips at the heart of these machines were growing more complex with each passing year.

But the machines, he argued, could become more powerful if they used a simpler type of computer chip. This counterintuitive idea spread across Silicon Valley, driven by the work of Mr. Patterson at the University of California in Berkeley and a second academic, John Hennessy, about 40 miles away at Stanford University.

They called it RISC, short for “reduced instruction set computer.” On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery, the venerable computing society that represents industry professionals across the world, announced that Mr. Patterson and Mr. Hennessy had won this year’s Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of computing. They will share a $1 million cash prize.

Named for the British mathematician and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, the award carries an added resonance this year, as the chip industry takes another step toward the kind of future envisioned by Mr. Patterson and Mr. Hennessy. Today, more than 99 percent of all new chips use the RISC architecture, according to the association.

“This is the one fundamental idea that has been sustained over the last several decades of chip design,” said Dave Ditzel, a chip industry veteran who studied with Mr. Patterson at Berkeley. Mr. Ditzel helped popularize many of the same ideas and is now building a new RISC chip at a start-up called Esperanto. Read more from…

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