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British computer boffin wins $250,000 Turing Award

Professor Les Valiant has received $250,000 prize money for his life’s work, leading to machines which can almost ‘think’ and can beat humans at complex intellectual tasks.

His research has created complex mathematical algorithms which allow computers to ‘learn’, leading to email spam filters, speech recognition software and stock market fraud detection systems. Last month, an IBM supercomputer running software based around some of Valiant’s ideas defeated two human opponents on the quiz show Jeopardy!

Professor Valiant has applied computer science concepts to the human brain which will help him understand what he calls ‘spectacular feats of learning and memory given its physical limitations’.

Professor Les Valiant

Alfred Spector, vice president of research and special initiatives at Google (co-sponsors of the Turing award with Intel) said “His ingenious concepts and brilliant research have had incredible breadth, and he has both made and inspired innovations in the field of machine learning, an area of growing importance in many uses of computing.”

Google are even using some of Valiant’s work in a smartphone application that translates voice calls between Spanish and English, in almost real time.

Valiant said “I am of course very pleased to have been given this honor. This connection with the achievements of the previous winners, and of Turing himself, is more than anyone in my field can reasonably expect.”

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