Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, the inventors of the Unix operating system and C programming language more than 40 years ago, have been awarded the Japan Prize, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The prize goes each year to people whose work “aims to promote the advancement of science and technology for the peace and prosperity of mankind.” The award is for $600,000. Ten previous recipients have also won Nobel Prizes.

Both Thompson and Ritchie were working at Bell Laboratories in the 1960’s when they invented Unix and C. They went on to have distinguished careers and are legends in the computer world.

Thompson, 67, is a “distinguished engineer” for Google, and Ritchie, 69, retired in 2007 from Lucent Technologies (now Alcatel Lucent), a successor to ATT Technologies.

In the late 1970’s, while he was at Bell, Thompson became interested in chess computers and along with Joe Condon developed Belle, the first chess computer to achieve a master rating (above 2,200).

(Full disclosure, I played Belle twice, somewhere around 1982. I drew one game and lost one. If I had known then what I know now about the man sitting across from me running the computer — Thompson — I might have thought to kowtow to him.)

Chessbase has a wonderful retrospective of Thompson and Belle, along with a number of photographs of Thompson at the London Chess Classic last month.