Harvard computer scientist wins Turing Award

Leslie Valiant
Harvard University computer science professor Leslie Valiant was named the winner of the 2010 A. M. Turing Award. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell)

Leslie Valiant, a versatile computer scientist at Harvard University whose work led to advances in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to distributed computing, has been named the winner of the 2010 A.M. Turing Award.

The annual Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) award, sometimes called the "Nobel Prize in Computing," recognizes Valiant for his broad contributions to computational learning theory and computer science. The award comes with a $250,000 prize funded by Google and Intel.

"Leslie Valiant's accomplishments over the last 30 years have provided the theoretical basis for progress in artificial intelligence and led to extraordinary achievements in machine learning. His work has produced modeling that offers computationally inspired answers on fundamental questions like how the brain 'computes,'" ACM President Alain Chesnais said in a statement. "His profound vision in computer science, mathematics, and cognitive theory have been combined with other techniques to build modern forms of machine learning and communication, like IBM's Jeopardy! champion 'Watson' computing system, that have enabled computing systems to rival a human's ability to answer questions."

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Valiant's influential works include a paper titled "Theory of the Learnable" that is considered a seminal source on machine learning and has led to the development of algorithms that adapt in response to environmental feedback from devices such as networked sensors and databases. More practically, it has led to development of technologies such as spam filters.

His 1982 paper "A Scheme for Fast Parallel Communication" outlines a solution for addressing network congestion problems.

Of late, Valiant has focused on computational neuroscience and has published a book called "Circuits of the Mind" that takes a computational approach to studying how the human brain works.

Valiant's work has led to advances in areas such as natural language processing, handwriting recognition and computer vision, according to the ACM.

Before joining Harvard in 1982, Valiant taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Leeds University and the University of Edinburgh.

Other recent Turing Award winners have been MIT Professor Barbara Liskov, recognized for object-oriented programming techniques crucial to programming languages such as Java and C++, and Microsoft researcher Charles Thacker, who won last year for his work in pioneering the networked personal computer.

The full list of winners for the Turing Award, which goes back to 1966, can be found here.

The ACM dishes out its awards at a banquet on June 4 in San Jose.

For more on network research, follow our Alpha Doggs blog.

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This story, "Harvard computer scientist wins Turing Award" was originally published by Network World.

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