Carnegie Mellon University
February 11, 2016

Artificial Intelligence Pioneer Judea Pearl Wins CMU’s Dickson Prize in Science

Will Accept Award, Present Public Lecture on Feb. 29

By Byron Spice / 412-268-9068 /

Carnegie Mellon University has awarded its 2015 Dickson Prize in Science to Judea Pearl, a computer scientist at UCLA who is internationally known for his contributions to artificial intelligence, human reasoning, causality and the philosophy of science.

Judea Pearl
Judea Pearl

Pearl will accept the award, which includes a medal and cash prize, and present the Dickson Prize Lecture, “Science, Counterfactuals and Free Will,” at noon on Monday, Feb. 29, in McConomy Auditorium in CMU's Cohon University Center. The lecture is free and open to the public.

CMU's Dickson Prize in Science was established in 1969 by the late Pittsburgh physician Joseph Z. Dickson and his wife Agnes Fisher Dickson. It is awarded annually to individuals in the United States who make outstanding contributions to science. Pearl is the Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA, where he has been a faculty member since 1970. He directs the university’s Cognitive Systems Laboratory and conducts research in artificial intelligence, human cognition and philosophy of science.

The Association for Computing Machinery awarded Pearl the 2011 A.M. Turing Award, the pre-eminent honor in the field of computer science. His work on reasoning with uncertainty and his calculus of causal inference have influenced not only machine learning, but also natural language processing, computer vision, robotics, computational biology, econometrics, cognitive science and statistics.

Most artificial intelligence systems once reasoned with Boolean logic — understanding true or false, but having difficulty with maybe. Yet modern AI systems, such as self-driving cars, speech recognition and automated translation, routinely encounter uncertainty. Pearl developed the theoretical foundations for reasoning under uncertainty using what he called a “Bayesian network,” which mimics the neural activities of the human brain. Bayesian networks marked a critical step in achieving AI that can interact with the physical world.

Bayesian networks also have had a major impact on the way machines reason about actions and observations and how cause-effect relationships are understood and measured across many scientific disciplines.

Pearl earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in physics at Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He has authored three books, “Heuristics” (1983), “Probabilistic Reasoning” (1988) and “Causality” (2000, 2009). The latter book won the 2001 Lakatos Award from the London School of Economics and Political Science “for an outstanding significant contribution to the philosophy of science.”

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society and a founding fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Part of the Dickson cash prize will be donated to Pearl's alma mater, the Technion, and part to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which was created in memory of his son, a journalist who was murdered in Pakistan in 2002.