Judea Pearl wins ‘Nobel Prize in computing’

Father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl receives Turing Award for artificial intelligence research.

By TOM TUGEND, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
March 15, 2012 16:55
3 minute read.
Judea Pearl

Judea Pearl 370. (photo credit: Danielpearl.org)

 
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LOS ANGELES – Judea Pearl is the winner of an award, best known as the “Nobel Prize in Computing,” for his path-breaking innovations in artificial intelligence – the discipline probing the partnership between humans and robotic machines.

Pearl’s selection for the Turing Award, which carries a $250,000 prize, is slated to be announced Thursday in New York by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

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The award recognizes Pearl’s work, which “serves as the standard method for handling uncertainty in computer systems, with applications ranging from medical diagnosis, homeland security and genetic counseling to natural language understanding and mapping gene expression data. His influence extends beyond artificial intelligence and even computer science, to human reasoning and the philosophy of science,” according to the ACM announcement.

Pearl’s specialty, artificial intelligence, or AI, is the subfield of computer science that aims to discover the fundamental building blocks of thought, creativity, imagination and language – those elements of the mind that make us intelligent.

A professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, Pearl, 75, devotes half of his working schedule to teaching a class at UCLA, guiding PhD students, and his research.

The other half is devoted to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, headed and established by him and his wife, Ruth, following the 2002 kidnapping and murder of their son Daniel, a Wall Street Journal reporter, by Muslim extremists in Pakistan.

Among the foundation’s projects are an annual worldwide music day and a fellowship program for journalists from Muslim countries.

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Judea Pearl was born and raised in Bnei Brak, received his bachelor’s degree from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and graduate degrees from Rutgers University and the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.

Pearl was notified of his selection for the Turing Award – named in honor of British mathematician Alan M. Turing – while preparing for a trip to Israel, where he will receive the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology at the Technion.

The Harvey Prize carries a $75,000 honorarium, which, he said, he will divide in three equal parts and donate to the Technion, the Daniel Pearl Foundation and his grandchildren.

He and his wife have not yet decided how to split the $250,000 Turing Award money.

Pearl’s major contribution to the two-way dialogue between man and machine has been, first, in the area of uncertainty, a constant in every human endeavor, and later in causality, the relationship between cause and effect.

The research on uncertainty occupied Pearl for much of the first part of his career, and when it was finished, in the late 1980s, he turned his attention to the theory of causality to further advance a robot’s learning process.

Although his research on causality and causal reasoning will “have had a major effect on the way causality is understood and measured in many scientific disciplines, most notably philosophy, psychology, statistics, econometrics, epidemiology and social science,” according to the ACM citation, some economists and statisticians have criticized the approach.

This being the case, Pearl said that while most recipients consider prestigious awards as recognition of their past work, he sees the Turing Award as elevating his current and future visibility and authority vis-à-vis his critics.

Pearl will receive the Turing Award on June 16 in San Francisco during the annual ACM banquet. Participants will include all past winners of the award, who will also mark the 100th anniversary of Turing’s birth. Turing is considered the father of artificial intelligence and is credited with devising the techniques for breaking the German code during World War II.

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