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Judea Pearl Wins Turing Award 38

alphadogg writes "Judea Pearl, a longtime UCLA professor whose work on artificial intelligence laid the foundation for such inventions as the iPhone's Siri speech recognition technology and Google's driverless cars, has been named the 2011 ACM Turing Award winner. The annual Association for Computing Machinery A.M. Turing Award, sometimes called the 'Nobel Prize in Computing,' recognizes Pearl for his advances in probabilistic and causal reasoning. His work has enabled creation of thinking machines that can cope with uncertainty, making decisions even when answers aren't black or white."
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Judea Pearl Wins Turing Award

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  • by ChipMonk ( 711367 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @06:53PM (#39371395) Journal
    After all, every computer so far trusts that its human programmer(s) have a clue. This bad assumption is the greatest source of uncertainty.
  • by MagikSlinger ( 259969 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @07:02PM (#39371465) Homepage Journal
    Yes, this [] Daniel Pearl.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      To paraphrase an old cliche: "Only Pearl can father Pearl"
    • You know, I was composing something a little bit snarky. Slashdot snarky, not complete troll. And I read this and followed the link before I hit the "post" command, and want to thank you for saving me from unintended troll-dom. Thanks, dude or m'am. I can imagine my son dying for something and people not knowing I'm his dad.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Congratulations to Mr. Pearl.

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:10PM (#39372195)

    I spent a day poking into his work around xmas time. I recall a long document with artistic illustrations on the nature of causality. One of those documents where every step seems almost too trivial to notice, until you discover you've reached the conclusion and haven't gaining any understanding. Well, some of those small points must be hiding more than they first appear. When the penny did finally drop, I felt his presentation was perhaps obscured by contrived simplicity.

    In my own thinking since, I've realized that causality is not what we think it is. In a sufficiently complex system, causality as we wish to know it ceases to manifest itself. Stephen Jay Gould tried to get this point across in The Mismeasure of Man [] without entirely realizing it. You come away from that book mainly with a profound sense of how much he hates the Ascent of Man iconography at more of a gut level than a cerebral one.

    The second fallacy is "ranking", which is the "propensity for ordering complex variation as a gradual ascending scale."

    Implied in that ascending order is the human conceit of because-ness. When we tire of because-ness on the grand scale, we flit to worrying about the wings of butterflies. Both at the same time? Wow, your mind is more flexible than mine.

    What I realized in my subsequent thinking (after my Pearl diving) is that randomness and causality share similar housing. Pseudo-random numbers are useful precisely because they are decorrelated (to at least modest algorithmic depth) with any unwitting sequence you are likely to stumble over (but not ones maliciously prepared; to combat that you need true randomness).

    If you have a correlation between smoking and lung cancer, how do you show that smoking is causative? You need to perform some intervention which does not by itself explain the answer. Otherwise you might just as well conclude that the smoking of special "control" cigarettes prepared by men in white coats is a lung cancer cure, and apply to the FDA for treatment status. There is no such thing as a pure control (like pure randomness). All controls are pseudo-controls. Like pseudo-random numbers, some pseudo-controls are damn good enough for certain purposes.

    In a really big system, such as the evolutionary history of life on earth, you'll never get a clean separation you entirely believe a priori. You'll always wonder if your exploratory manipulation itself is the smoking gun. How to prove otherwise? Well, the problem regresses. With a billion evolutionary simulators (with roughly the complexity of the local solar system) run a billion times on each of a trillion microscopic hypotheses, you might reach some stunning conclusions—if your methodology section doesn't trigger black hole formation. It's not so much that causality ceases to exist, it's more the case that you'll just never get there in reductive purity.

    Recently there is the Taubes position on fructose (consumed in excess quantity) being a principle vector in metabolic syndrome. How do you prove this? Test diets with and without? Do they taste exactly the same? Are the digestive mechanics exactly the same? Can you slip the change in the lives of your subjects without them any the wiser? How did select a test group and maintain contact with it while none of them were any the wiser? Didn't half of them drift off to lives in new cities? And none of them heard about the fructose hypothesis on the radio and made subconscious life changes.

    This is where gene knock-out experiments in mice are the bomb. We presume that mice really don't know about experimental protocol. Douglas Adams wants to know why. The Ascent of Man is always hiding in causality arguments somewhere, as any acute satirist realizes.

    [snit]I'm pretty sure I spelled Pearl correctly (not Perle). If I succeeded, was the cause of this the Slashdot design where not even the title of the article I'm comment

  • by ( 551216 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @09:17PM (#39372851) Homepage
    Wow, that's big news. I heard him speak last year when he got the Rumelhart prize - the story about how he worked out Bayesian networks is humble. I think, some paper napkins were involved. The whole lecture is archived here: []
  • I've had Judea Pearl's book Causality in my Amazon cart for nearly a decade now, but hadn't gotten around to buying it. Now I'll never be able to say that I read Judea Pearl before he was cool.

    Anyway, congratulations.

  • Congratulations! I haven't met him personally yet, but know many of his seminal papers and must say that he really deserves this award! Great work!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I met Judea Pearl a number of times. I even took a basic probability course from him. He's a very gentle, quiet, sweet man. In his spare time he runs a choir, and used to often be seen at UCLA-adjacent dances. When I was around him, they had placed his office among those of another department in Boelter Hall. I guess no one knew what he was doing, and no one felt they needed to be near him. His little cubicle office was filled with books, more so than the offices of other professors. I lost track of

  • Judea Pe(a)rl is actually a computer program... and has therefore won both the Turing Award and the Turing Test!

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson