February 14, 2011 — U of T computer scientist wins Herzberg Canada Gold Medal
One of Hamer Postgraduate Prizes goes to engineering PhD student
February 14, 2011
By Paul Fraumeni
U of T computer science professor Geoffrey Hinton, considered one of the world’s foremost researchers in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence, has been awarded the 2010 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
The medal, named for Canadian Nobel Laureate Gerhard Herzberg, is awarded annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to an individual who has made outstanding and sustained contributions to Canadian research in the natural sciences and engineering. The prize provides the researcher with $1 million over five years to further his or her research.
“Professor Hinton is a tremendous innovator who richly deserves the prestigious Herzberg Canada Gold Medal,” said U of T president David Naylor. “He is a scientist absolutely on the leading edge of his field and one who is making a tangible and positive impact on our everyday lives.”
The staggering volume of data available today has generated a growing need for automated systems that can spot patterns, learn from examples and make predictions. This trend makes Hinton’s specialty, machine learning, one of the most important frontiers in modern science.
In the quest to create artificial intelligence, part of the challenge is to understand the principles of human learning and apply them to machines. As a result of Hinton’s research, computers are now better able to find complicated patterns in scientific, medical, economic and other data. He has developed algorithms used in applications such as creating better systems for voice recognition, automatically reading bank cheques and monitoring industrial plants for improved safety.
Hinton has also contributed to cognitive psychology and neuroscience by proposing influential theories of how the brain generates its internal representations of the visual world from the sensory input it receives from the eyes.
“We are most fortunate to have Professor Hinton at the University of Toronto,” said Professor Paul Young, vice-president (research). “Through his important contributions to science, he has distinguished himself and our institution. We are delighted that he continues to be recognized for his work at the highest levels and we are thankful to NSERC for awarding him the Herzberg Gold Medal.”
Hinton received his BA in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge in 1970 and his PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Edinburgh in 1978. After postdoctoral work at Sussex University and the University of California San Diego, he was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University for five years. He was a professor in computer science at U of T from 1987 to 1998 and then spent three years setting up the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London. He returned to U of T’s Computer Science Department in 2001. Hinton is also director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s (CIFAR) neural computation and adaptive perception program.
Among his many honours, Hinton is a University Professor, the highest research honour U of T bestows on its faculty members. He is a fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Canada and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. He was awarded the first David E. Rumelhart Prize in 2001, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the theoretical foundations of human cognition. He also received the 2005 International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence Research Excellence Award, a prestigious honour that has been awarded to only 12 recipients over the past 24 years.
"It’s great being at an institution where there are so many other leading researchers who are equally deserving," said Hinton. "The one million dollars of research funding that comes with the Herzberg medal will allow my graduate students and me to continue attacking the tough problems."
U of T has an impressive record of faculty members being awarded the Herzberg Gold Medal. Past winners include Professors James Arthur of Mathematics (1999), Richard Bond of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (2006) and John Polanyi of Chemistry (2007).
Also honoured by NSERC with one of two of the André Hamer Postgraduate Prizes was Audrey Kertesz, a Master of Applied Science student in Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at U of T. The Hamer Prize is awarded to the most outstanding candidates in NSERC’s masters and doctoral scholarship competitions. Kertesz is researching ways to improve the efficiency of urban-based solar panel arrays by designing better control systems.
“We are extremely proud of Audrey Kertesz’s achievements and prowess as a scholar, which NSERC has acknowledged with this prestigious award,” said Professor Cristina Amon, dean of the faculty. “We look forward to celebrating her continued success.”
Hinton, Kertesz and other Canadian university NSERC award winners were honoured at a ceremony in Ottawa on Feb. 14.
“Canadian scientists and engineers are conducting some of the most ambitious, creative and successful research programs in the world,” said NSERC president Suzanne Fortier. “These award winners represent the full spectrum of our country’s research talent, from students just embarking on their careers to seasoned researchers making internationally recognized discoveries.”