Computer Science’s Sheila McIlraith named Fellow of prestigious Association of Computing Machinery

December 13, 2019 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

Sheila McIlraith, a professor in the Department of Computer Science in the Faculty of Arts & Science, has been named a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

The ACM — which also awards the Turing Award, computer science’s Nobel Prize — is the world’s largest computing society. Fellows are recognized for their contributions toward “the technologies that define the digital age” and represent the top one per cent of the organization’s membership.

McIlraith’s research is in the area of artificial intelligence where she studies mathematical principles and computational techniques that govern deliberative reasoning tasks. She is being recognized for contributions to knowledge representation and its application to automated planning and semantic web services.

“It's a tremendous honour to be recognized by such an esteemed organization,” says McIlraith. “I'm thankful for the intellectual community at the University of Toronto, and for the support for basic research in Canada. They have given me and my students the freedom to pursue fundamental questions in artificial intelligence.”

“Computing technology has had a tremendous impact in shaping how we live and work today,” says ACM President Cherri M. Pancake. “All of the technologies that directly or indirectly influence us are the result of countless hours of collaborative and/or individual work, as well as creative inspiration and, at times, informed risk-taking. 

“Each year, we look forward to welcoming some of the most outstanding individuals as fellows. The ACM Fellows program is a cornerstone of our overall recognition effort. In highlighting the accomplishments of the ACM fellows, we hope to give credit where it is due, while also educating the public about the extraordinary array of areas in which computing professionals work.”

Before joining U of T in 2004, McIlraith was a research scientist at Stanford University and spent a year at Xerox PARC, in Palo Alto, California. She is a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), associate editor of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research (JAIR) and serves on the editorial board of Artificial Intelligence Magazine. 

“We are proud to celebrate Professor McIlraith’s appointment as a Fellow of the ACM,” says Marsha Chechik, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “She has made significant contributions to the theoretical and computational principles of reasoning about action and change. Her work has been instrumental in setting standards for semantic web services and in advances in automated planning & diagnosis.

“She served as vice-chair of our department in 2011 and is a deeply engaged teacher and mentor whose commitment to many initiatives in our department — from Women in Computer Science to the Undergraduate AI Group — has positively impacted hundreds of students.”

McIlraith receives the distinction along with the cohort of 2019 fellows from Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Switzerland and the United States. The 2019 fellows will be honoured at a formal ceremony in June 2020 in San Francisco, California.

The ACM honour comes close on the heels of another for McIlraith. On Dec. 9, she was named a Canada CIFAR AI Chair along with seven other U of T faculty. The chair program is a part of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, which is designed to attract and retain leading AI researchers.