Judea Pearl, chancellor’s professor of computer science at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, has received the 2021 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the information and communication technologies category “for laying the foundations of modern artificial intelligence, so computer systems can process uncertainty and relate causes to effects.”
The Spain-based awards were established in 2008 to recognize fundamental contributions in a broad array of areas of scientific knowledge, technology, humanities and artistic creation. The awards comprise eight categories and each award includes a prize of €400,000 (about $457,000), commemorative artwork and a diploma. The foundation works in conjunction with the Spanish National Research Council in administering the awards.
Pearl’s research has paved the way for AI tech, such as driverless cars and voice recognition software. Through his invention of Bayesian networks, which enables computers to reason with uncertainty, Pearl became a giant in the field of artificial intelligence. He is also credited with developing a calculus of causation that allows empirical scientists to quantify and discover cause-and-effect relationships from statistical data and auxiliary knowledge.
In selecting Pearl for the award, the foundation noted that, “by precisely characterizing confounding variables, and proposing methods for their derivation from data, Pearl developed a mathematical language for distinguishing between causal relations and spurious correlations. Beyond its broader impact across science and engineering, this formulation is playing a critical role in current research in fairness in machine learning algorithms.”
The award citation also highlighted his work’s impact on a broad range of fields, such as health and medicine, statistics and the social sciences. The methods developed by Pearl are widely taught at schools and his books “have inspired sweeping new advancements across our understanding of reasoning and thought.”
A video Q&A with Pearl, conducted shortly after he was notified of the award, accompanied this week’s announcement.
At UCLA, Pearl directs the Cognitive Systems Laboratory. He also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Statistics. Pearl has received numerous international awards, including the A.M. Turing Award, the most prestigious prize awarded to computer scientists by the Association for Computing Machinery and often called the “Nobel Prize of Computing.”
Pearl is the second UCLA computer science faculty member to receive the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award. Distinguished professor of computer science Leonard Kleinrock received the award in 2014 for his contributions to the development of the internet.