James William Cooley & John Tukey


James Cooley & John Tukey were most significantly known for inventing the “Cooley-Tukey Fast Fourier Transform” (FFT) algorithm. A Fast Fourier transform rapidly converts time (or space) to frequency and vice versa.

It is widely used for many applications in engineering, science, and mathematics. Cooley also considerably contributed to the establishing of terminology in digital signal processing.

Fun fact:

  • The motivation for computing a fast DFT was the concern about verifying a Nuclear arms treaty with the Soviet Union for the SALT talks. A very much faster Fourier Transform was needed to plant sensors in the ground in countries surrounding the Soviet Union. After the invention of the FFT sensors were planted which allowed locating nuclear explosions to within 15 kilometers of where they were occurring.
  • The image above has nothing to do with neither Cooley nor Tukey and was taken from Dr. Strangelove. The movie seemed to fit well to the cold-war climate and the SALT talks.
  • Tukey always told his students that “an approximate answer to the right question is worth a great deal more than a precise answer to the wrong question”.
  • In 1944, Tukey coined the term “bit,” an abbreviation of “binary digit” and credited with conceiving the word “software”.

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