Sharon Goldwater announced as winner of BCS Roger Needham Award

Sponsored by Microsoft Research Cambridge

30 March 2016

Dr Sharon GoldwaterDr Sharon Goldwater has been awarded the BCS Roger Needham Award for 2016 sponsored by Microsoft Research Cambridge. The award has been made in recognition of her outstanding work in the area of computational linguistics.

Sharon Goldwater is a Reader in the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation at the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics. She is an internationally leading researcher who has made major interdisciplinary research contributions across natural language processing, machine learning, and computational cognitive science. In particular, her work on Bayesian models for probabilistic machine learning have broken new ground in unsupervised learning of linguistic structure.

She explains: “Current speech and language technology uses supervised methods: the computer system learns about a specific language based on examples that are annotated by humans. This method works well for the relatively few languages where substantial linguistic annotations are available, but my focus on unsupervised language learning has the potential to make speech and language technology available to the more than 5,000 languages used across the world.”

Her work has made an impact in areas as diverse as speech technology (Bayesian language models for speech recognition) and child language acquisition (computational models of how children learn words and phonemes). Her research addresses the fundamental question of how a computational system can learn to analyse the structure of whatever human language it is exposed to, in an unsupervised or minimally supervised setting. Her examination of this question takes inspiration from both child language development, which suggests that successful language learning integrates multiple probabilistic sources of information in a structured way, and probabilistic machine learning, which provides the tools to develop systems that can do so.

Sharon says of receiving the award: “I’m greatly honoured to receive the BCS Needham Award and am delighted to have my work recognised in this way. I’m also grateful that the work on this domain has received so much attention. Studying how people use and learn language, and how machines can mimic this behaviour, can help us understand our own cognitive abilities and help create better systems that will be simple and efficient for people to use.

Professor Chris Bishop, Microsoft Research Cambridge Lab Director says: “Sharon Goldwater is a very deserving winner of the prestigious Roger Needham Award. The field of natural language processing is a major growth area in computer science, as evidenced by dramatic growth in language processing teams in both start-ups and large search and social media companies, but also with increasing interest from many more traditional business sectors."

Paul Fletcher, Group Chief Executive Officer BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, adds: “I’m delighted to announce Sharon Goldwater as the worthy recipient of the Needham Award in recognition of her distinguished research contribution in computer science. Her work will have a wide-ranging and lasting impact on society. Her ground breaking work is extremely innovative and affords important insights into the exciting area of computational linguistics.”

The Roger Needham Award is sponsored by Microsoft Research Cambridge and established in memory of Microsoft’s first director of research outside the US. It is awarded for a distinguished research contribution in computer science by a UK based researcher within ten years of their PhD.

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