Alvy Ray Smith

FOCS Cover 1973-2013 - 41 Years!


1973, Alvy Ray Smith, All Rights Reserved.

I was asked by my colleagues at the IBM Watson Research Center to design the cover of the 14th annual Switching and Automata Theory Symposium (SWAT), held in 1973. I did so one miserable night to escape the depression of an automobile failure in the worst part of the Bronx, in a rundown Esso station, in a snow storm. This design came to me, all at once, from thinking on the themes "cellular automata as models of living things", "artificial intelligence", and "self-reproducing machines". However, it took me a month to execute the design, with Rapidograph, triangle, French curves, Exacto knife, and ellipse templates, in drafting ink on vellum - obviously before I discovered computer graphics.

The design has been used ever since as the cover for the proceedings of the symposium - now called the Foundations of Computer Science Symposium (FOCS) - the 14th-54th conferences - 41 years!* My pay, besides the honor, was to get a copy of the proceedings free of charge each year. See the FOCS site. See Irrational Tiling by Logical Tiles for another proceedings cover of mine in long use (24 years).

The double infinity in a single plane (orthogonal vanishing points in one plane) posed a problem that I had to solve by cropping the image a certain way. I pursued the mathematics further to the right and left originally, and the visual effect was not pleasing because the distortion becomes too large. I wondered how Escher solved this problem, so I inspected his drawings and discovered that he used the same trick as I adopted - crop out the ugly stuff. This gave me further appreciation of him.

The hands are mine.

Conceived in the Bronx. Created on City Island in New York City in 1973.

By the way, I was published in this proceedings three other times - as a theorem-prover, not an artist - the 9th, 11th, and 12th conferences.

* The Synapse image was used for an actual cover 1973-2010 (14th-51st), so 38 years. The proceedings went electronic in 2011. The image was used for the "cover" of the electronic version 2011-2013 (52nd-54th), so 3 more years (the cover of the 2012 version was the "back cover"). In these three cases, a banner featuring a stylized fox cartoon was pasted across the image. The fox became the full cover for 2015-2017 (56th-58th) - that is, Synapse was not used at all. No image was used for the 2014 (55th) and 2018 (59th) issues.