“Hello, Computer!” Pioneers in Artificial Intelligence to Make a Guest Appearance at the First Heidelberg Laureate Forum

People use smartphones to communicate, and we have Raj Reddy and Edward Feigenbaum to thank for the fact that such interaction is made possible by a machine. The two computer scientists will be guest speakers at the 1st Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), a week-long symposium for and by a number of the best contemporary mathematicians and computer scientists beginning September 22. The scientists will spend the week taking part in discussions and exchanging new ideas and concepts in the fields of mathematics and computer science along with 200 international young researchers. Raj Reddy, a pioneer in speech recognition, will give the opening talk on the multilayered history of the modern computer. He will also explain why there are several people who could stake the claim to have “invented the computer”.

Raj Reddy, the longstanding professor at Stanford University and computer scientist, began dealing with the topics of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction in the 1960s, and he was particularly interested in machine speech recognition. At that time, such research was considered revolutionary, as the computers of the 1960s were still run on punch cards and were able to perform at a mere fraction of the speeds of today’s computers. Reddy was the first to develop a concept for computers to process spoken words. In 1994, he received the Turing Award for his groundbreaking research; this award is recognized as the highest distinction in computer science, quasi the Nobel Prize of computing. Reddy’s research findings can be found in many products today, such as the GPS unit that we could hardly imagine doing without.

Raj Reddy began his career in research at a hotbed for computer science, namely Stanford University. His doctoral advisor, John McCarthy, also received the prestigious Turing Award. Reddy dedicated his efforts to the question of how sound waves could be processed by a computer: After recording speech on tape, he then was able to break down the sound waves into smaller segments, which correspond to either a vowel or consonant. Reddy developed a model for a database matching system that can search for the best match for any segment. After he entered a glossary into the system, his program was then able to successfully identify which words were spoken. In one experiment, he was able to control a robotic arm by voice commands; and this was in 1968! Six years later, he unveiled “Hearsay”, one of the first computer systems to recognize natural language. This system was comprised of several basic technical concepts that are still used today. For example, the ability to automatically adapt to a speaker who pronounces words differently. This aspect, along with many other innovations from his research, can be found in numerous commercial systems today.

At the end of the 1970s, Reddy began to expand his field of research. In addition to robotics and human-computer interaction, he increasingly focused on the role of technology in modern society and how it could help to improve the living conditions of the poorest populations in the world. As part of these efforts, Reddy successfully completed “The Million Book Project” in 2007. This pilot project is aimed to provide every human being with unfettered access to information. Still today, Reddy continues to focus his efforts on improving the opportunities for education regardless of age and national or cultural boundaries. In this regard, the pioneer of computer technology did not pass up the chance to take part in the 1st Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF) where he will be able to share his experiences and knowledge. The HLF will allow 200 of the finest young researchers in computer science and mathematics to meet award-winning scientists like Raj Reddy to discuss scientific concepts and ideas: We are eager to see what the computerized world of tomorrow will look like.