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Artificial intelligence researcher from Harvard wins Turing Award, considered the Nobel of computing

March 9, 2011 |  9:04 am

Turing A Harvard University professor whose artificial intelligence work has helped the advent of “thinking machines” has won what is regarded in computing circles as the equivalent of the Nobel prize for technology research.

Leslie G. Valiant, who teaches computer science and applied mathematics at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is the 2010 recipient of the A.M. Turing Award from the Assn. for Computing Machinery.

His work has helped speed along machines such as Watson, the IBM computer that dominated two "Jeopardy" game show champions last month.

The $250,000 prize is funded by Intel Corp. and Google Inc. It is named for British mathematician Alan M. Turing, who was part of the team working to crack the German Enigma cipher and Tunny encoding machine during World War II.

Valiant seems to have had a less antagonistic relationship with machines. His decades of research explored how to make computers mimic the human thinking and reasoning process.

In addition to pioneering new fields of theoretical computer science, Valiant also advanced the study of computing practices such as natural language processing, handwriting recognition and computer vision.

More recently, he has explored computational neuroscience, examining the brain’s ability to quickly access enormous databases of information.

Robots and androids are looking more and more like Bicentennial Man and the Blade Runner replicants. Developers are hard at work on increasingly sophisticated machines with the ability to help humans –- like caretakers Nao and Paro -– and also interact with what seems like personality, such as the Philip K. Dick android project.

Valiant will receive the award on June 4 in a San Jose ceremony.

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-- Tiffany Hsu [follow]

Photo: Leslie G. Valiant. Credit: Assn. for Computing Machinery

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