Judea Pearl, Professor of Computer Sciences UCLA, received the A.M. Turing Award last night at the awards banquet of the Association of Computing Machinery at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco. He now joins the forty-three previous laureates of the ‘Nobel prize of computing’, of whom twenty-five were in attendance to honor him.
Jo Ann and I joined the gala celebration as guests of the awardee, and sat with family and friends, most of whom we have known for decades. (I am a lifelong member of the ACM.) The awards banquet also honored other contributors to the field and culminated in the Turing Award presentation. Here is ACM’s official, yet still modest, recounting of Judea’s accomplishments.
The Pearls became family friends soon after Judea Pearl collaborated on a project with a ‘black studies’ company I was running in the 1970s. Judea’s wife Ruth (an accomplished software engineer in her own right) is a consummate hostess. Jo Ann also had (still has) a reputation for putting on mean soirees that, with the passing hours, devolved into impromptu performances ranging from poetry recitations, through heated debates on various arcane and absorbing topics, to planned revivals of long ago salons of the Englightment.
We were often at each other’s house for such dinners, parties, and special noodling sessions. These always included music that had us singing with guitars and keyboard for accompaniment. Judea is an accomplished guitar player, keyboardist, and has a great singing voice. He’s also a world class choral conductor and has performed numerous times at the LA Music Center. (I was the less practiced one on both instruments, making up in volume for what I lacked in technique.)
A couple of shared memories from a rich catalog. For Ruth’s birthday one year Judea invited us and another couple to a small westside bistro in LA. We knew that something special was going to happen because Judea brought his guitar; but what could that be since we were eating in a restaurant? Not a problem, soon the main course was finished, and after dinner drinks were in hand. The lights were low and the atmosphere was perfect as Judea reached behind his chair for his trusty guitar and putting a foot on his chair, he launched into a medley of love songs to his bride of many years.
The other patrons in the restaurant were enthralled along with those at our table. I recall Judea ending his special gift to Ruth (and the rest of us) with a rendition of a soulful Spanish adagio for solo trumpet and guitar from a piece I could not place. It was a night to remember, as Judea kissed Ruth to the applause of the entire restaurant. (Solo trumpet? Did I fail to mention that Judea also has a unique gift, the ability to purse his lips, puff his cheeks, and perfectly simulate the sound of a virtuoso trumpet?)
Another memory is when I got a call late one afternoon from Judea saying that Ed Feigenbaum was in town and could drop by for some dinner and talk; would I care to join them? (The techie reader will recognize Feigenbaum as a renown giant of AI, ‘father of expert systems’, and Turing laureate who taught for years at Stanford - now professor emeritus.) Long story short. After one of Ruth’s ‘oh it’s nothing’ fabulous meals, the three of us retired to the patio and spent the next four (five?) hours talking about the state of machine intelligence, who was doing what, and possible directions the science would take and its impact on society. At the time Judea had already published his landmark 1986 paper and was working on his 1988 book on Bayes nets (I was one of Judea’s doctoral students doing research in Bayes learning). It was clear that the torch would soon be passed from Feigenbaum’s expert systems to Pearl’s Bayes nets (with causality soon making its early murmurs). Truly another memorable night.
So that was the basis for all the fuss this weekend at the Rebane household. Yesterday morning we dropped off our puppy with the Steeles, and headed through a hot and crowded central valley to San Francisco. Judea and I were able to spend some quality time together before the band started playing. (The picture with the other white haired professor catches a debate on who has known Judea the longest - I foolishly thought c'est moi. I came in a distant second to the good professor who has known Judea since they were playmates on an Israeli kibbutz eons ago while the Brits still ran Palestine.)
Jo Ann and Ruth picked up where they left off (top picture). Ruth also sits on the board of the Daniel Pearl Foundation which is dedicated in memory of their son and has as its mission statement –
The Daniel Pearl Foundation has been formed by Danny's family and friends to continue Danny's mission and to address the root causes of this tragedy, in the spirit, style, and principles that shaped Danny's work and character. These principles include uncompromised objectivity and integrity; insightful and unconventional perspective; tolerance and respect for people of all cultures; unshaken belief in the effectiveness of education and communication; and the love of music, humor, and friendship.
(Full disclosure: Jo Ann and I are ongoing supporters of the foundation, especially its work in bringing greater mutual understanding between Islamic and western cultures.)