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Karen Spärck Jones Wins Two ACM Awards

Professor Earns Recognition for Work Fundamental to Modern Search Engines

Virginia Gold

The Association for Computing Machinery



Professor Earns Recognition for Work Fundamental to Modern Search Engines

New York, March 22, 2007 - Karen Spärck Jones has been named as the recipient of two major ACM awards for her contributions to research that enables communication with computers in everyday "natural" language. Spärck Jones, a professor of Computers and Information at Cambridge University, UK, has worked in automatic language and information retrieval research since the late fifties. The insights from her work are fundamental to many modern search engines, which use information retrieval tools to help find information stored on a computer system. In recognition of her achievements, she will receive the ACAM/AAAI Newell Award and the ACM-W Athena Award.

The ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award recognizes career contributions with breadth within computer science, or that bridge computer science and other disciplines. It is given jointly by ACM and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. The Athena Lecturer Award, given by the ACM Committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W) recognizes women researchers who have made fundamental contributions to Computer Science. Within the last month, Spärck Jones' achievements have also been recognized with the Lovelace Medal, presented by the British Computer Society to those who have made significant contributions to advancing and understanding Information Systems.

Spärck Jones' doctoral research on synonymy and semantic classification led to the core idea that word classes could be derived by clustering words based on their frequency and patterns, a technique known as lexical co-occurrence. Her thesis was so novel and fundamental that it was published as a book by Edinburgh University Press twenty-two years later in 1986.

Spärck Jones was a pioneer in the use of document collections such as the Cranfield Collection to automatically evaluate information retrieval systems. These systems were used to test the value of keyword clusters. She subsequently discovered that term weighting, a statistical measure used to evaluate how important a word is in a collection, and thus the word's significance for an individual document, was an inexpensive and effective tool. This process, known as inverse document frequency (IDF), is often used by search engines to help score and rank a document's relevance for a user's query. More recently, she has contributed to the advancement of spoken document retrieval and automatic text summarization.

In 1984, Spärck Jones helped develop the Intelligent Knowledge-Based Systems research area for a major research program for advanced information technology in the United Kingdom. This project, known as the Alvey Programme, ultimately funded several hundred project teams. Since 1994, she has worked with several U.S. evaluation programs, including a joint project on text retrieval led by the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In addition to Spärck Jones' mentorship of PhD students, more than 300 students have graduated from the interdisciplinary M.Phil course in speech and language processing which she co-founded with the late Professor Frank Fallside. She is the author of numerous research papers and nine books, and co-authored Evaluating Natural language Processing Systems (1996) with Julia R. Galliers. Her Readings in Natural Language Processing (1986) edited with Barbara Grosz and Bonnie Webber and Readings in Information Retrieval (1977) edited with Peter Willett have organized the scientific literature for those communities.

Spärck Jones was president of the Association for Computational Linguistics in 1994. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence as well as the European Coordinating Committee for Artificial Intelligence. In 2002, Spärck Jones gave the prestigious Grace Hopper Lecture, which seeks to recognize successful women in engineering and inspire students to achieve at the highest level. In 2004, she was awarded the Association of Computational Linguistics Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 2007-2008 Athena Lecturer Award will be presented at the ACM Awards Banquet, June 9, in San Diego, CA. As part of the Athena Lecturer project, the recipient is invited to present a lecture at an ACM event. Spärck Jones will address the Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval (SIGIR) conference, July 23-27, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In 1998, Spärck Jones was awarded the Gerard Salton Award from ACM SIGIR.

Each year, the Athena Lecturer honors a preeminent woman computer scientist. Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom. With her knowledge, sense of purpose and willingness to enter the fray, Athena epitomizes the strength, determination, and intelligence of the "Athena Lecturers."

About ACM
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is an educational and scientific society uniting the world's computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field's challenges. ACM strengthens the profession's collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.

About ACM-W
ACM-W is the ACM committee on Women in Computing. It celebrates, informs and supports women in computing, and works with the ACM-W community of computer scientists, educators, employers and policy makers to improve working and learning environments for women.

ACM/Press Release. Last updated March 22, 2007 by Steven Geringer