ARLINGTON, Va.—For his research that helps computers "think" through uncertainty, an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored scientist received the world's most prestigious computer science award March 15.
The Association for Computing Machinery named Dr. Judea Pearl its 2011 A.M. Turing Award winner, based in part on Pearl's innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) that have helped bridge the gap between man and machine. His groundbreaking work that helps computers "reason" when faced with uncertainty—and even explain their actions—earned him the award, considered the highest in the field.
"Dealing with uncertainty is a universal problem, occurring any time we face noisy data and uncertain assumptions about the world," noted Pearl, a professor at UCLA. "Many Naval tasks such as object tracking, object recognition, scene interpretation and battlefield assessment" use Pearl's approach to reduce uncertainty during computational analysis.
His work is a significant asset to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, said Dr. Behzad Kamgar-Parsi, an ONR program officer who has been supporting Pearl's research.
"It's had a tremendous affect on our automated analysis of surveillance images and video," observed Kamgar-Parsi. "Also in robotics, which are used increasingly in the Navy, and across the Department of Defense."
Pearl's work in AI has spanned decades, much of it sponsored by ONR.
"In the early days of AI, dealing with uncertainty was considered a fundamental philosophical hurdle," said Pearl. "How can a digital machine, programmed to obey the rules of binary, true-and-false logic, ever cope with the heavy fog of uncertainty that clouds ordinary daily tasks such as crossing a street, parking a car, reading a text or diagnosing diseases?"
His solution included the development of Bayesian Networks, where uncertain information— including humans' imprecise prior knowledge and observations—were utilized in computer algorithms.
"Judea is an amazing person," said Kamgar-Parsi. "The Turing Award is considered the highest honor in computer science, a yearly award very much like the Nobel Prize."
Beyond the Navy, Pearl's pioneering AI studies have been adopted for use in everything from economics projections to medical analysis and more.
Pearl said he's glad to feel "useful and trustworthy," and that he's gratified by the recognition being accorded to AI.
Named for British mathematician Alan M. Turing, the award includes a $250,000 prize.
About the Office of Naval Research
The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.
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