Computer Science Professor Judea Pearl honored

Apr 12, 2010

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Pearl was presented with a Festschrift, at a Celebration of his Lifetime of Work in Artificial Intelligence

UCLA computer science professor Judea Pearl was honored last month at an all-day workshop celebrating his influential contributions in artificial intelligence and related sciences.

The event, held at the UCLA Faculty Center on March 12, coincided with the 25th anniversary in which Pearl introduced the term “Bayesian networks” – a graphical model of probabilistic and causal relationships named after the 18th Century English mathematician Thomas Bayes.

Bayesian networks map out causes and effects among a large set of variables, then continue on to show how much they will affect each other in the face of new observations and interventions. This type of model helps systems produce optimal decisions, even if key pieces of information are missing. Bayesian networks have since been incorporated in many areas of science, technology, as well as in health care and the social sciences.

At the ceremony, Pearl was presented with a festschrift – a book of tributes from colleagues, friends and former students, on the impact of his contributions across many areas, including robotics, cognitive science, statistics, epidemiology and philosophy.

The festschrift, titled “Heuristics, Probability, and Causality: A Tribute to Judea Pearl,” was edited by two of his former students: Rina Dechter, a professor of computer science at UC Irvine, and Hector Geffner, a professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Spain; and colleague and collaborator Joseph Y. Halpern, a computer science professor at Cornell University who worked with Pearl on a structural model approach to causes and explanations. The book, which is available for purchase online, included contributions by 52 of his former students, friends and colleagues; many of whom, traveled from as far as Barcelona, Caracas and Melbourne to attend the event.The trio of editors worked for many months on the book and presented the just-completed book to Pearl at the celebration. Dechter said the book was to be a surprise, though Pearl indicated he might have known something was underway.

“The event was a culmination of a year and a half of work on the book, which was very rewarding by itself,” Dechter said after the event. “We were very happy to express some of the admiration and the profound gratitude we have for Judea Pearl and the impact he has had on our professional lives.”

Pearl is also an avid book collector. For the event, he displayed some treasures from his personal collection that were important in the history and evolution of causal and probabilistic reasoning. These included first editions from authors Christiaan Huygens, Daniel Bernoulli, Thomas Bayes, Alan Turing, George Boole, Claude Shannon, and others.

Pearl was presented with a special plaque from computer science professors Adnan Darwiche and Richard Korf, chair and vice-chair of the department, which recognized his more than 40 years of dedicated service and outstanding accomplishments at UCLA.

Nearly 20 of the book’s contributors, coming from around the world, gave presentations at the day-long celebration. Pearl delivered the closing .and spoke on “causes and counterfactuals.”

“It felt great to see the expression of appreciation of everyone towards Judea,” Dechter said. “In particular, it was rewarding to see how appreciative Judea was. His words at the end were very moving and gave us a great feeling of accomplishment.”

Among his many honors, UCLA computer science professor Judea Pearl has received the Benjamin Franklin Prize in Computers and Cognitive Science; the Alan Newell Award; the Purpose Prize; the Lakatos Award;, and he is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Pearl, his wife and family also founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation, in memory and honor of their son, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. The foundation’s mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and dialogue.

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