LANGUAGE THEORIST LAUDED FOR INFORMATION EFFORTS

A professor at Cambridge University is seeing her life's work in natural language and information processing reap a bouquet of awards from major computer science institutions this month. The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) announced Wednesday that it has chosen Karen Spÿrck Jones as the recipient of both the ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award and the ACM-W Athena Lecturer Award. Only weeks ago, she was also honored with the prestigious Ada Lovelace Medal by the British Computer Society (BCS).

The bevy of awards honor a woman who has been a pioneer since the 1950s in the area of language and information retrieval, particularly in techniques that enable people to interact with computers using ordinary words instead of equations or codes, a key breakthrough that has been instrumental to the development of modern search engines. Since 1990, her work has focused on speech applications, database querying, user and agent modeling, summarizing, and information and language system evaluation.

Spÿrck Jones will receive her ACM awards during presentation ceremonies this June and July. The Newell Award, bestowed each year in conjunction with the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, recognizes those whose careers have demonstrated "breadth within computer science." The Athena Award, presented by the ACM Committee on Women in Computing, recognizes women who have made "fundamental contributions to computer science."

The BCS's Lovelace Medal honors "individuals who have made a contribution which is of major significance in the advancement of information systems."

Spÿrck Jones's career began with a doctoral thesis that introduced the idea that word classes could be derived by clustering words based on their frequency and patterns, a technique known as lexical co-occurrence. She was among the early innovators to employ document collections to automatically evaluate information retrieval systems. According to the ACM, she subsequently discovered the efficacy of 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. Search engines today use this process, known as inverse document frequency, to help score and rank a document's relevance for a user's query.

A Fellow of the British Academy, Spÿrck Jones has also been honored with, among other tributes, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Computer Linguistics (2004), the Grace Hopper Lecture (2002) from the University of Pennsylvania, and the ACM-SIGIR Gerard Salton Award (1988). She is the author of numerous research papers and nine books in the area of natural language and information retrieval.

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