Karen Sparck-Jones

Digital Library

ACM Athena Lecturer Award

USA - 2007


Dr. Spärck Jones videotaped her Athena Lecture shortly before her untimely death in April 2007, and this was shown at the 30th Annual International ACM SIGIR Conference, July 2007.

ACM AAAI Allen Newell Award

United Kingdom - 2006


For seminal contributions to the field of information retrieval, for cross-disciplinary contributions bridging information retrieval and computational linguistics, and for her role in facilitating international cooperation in the field of computational linguistics.

Karen Spärck Jones made fundamental contributions to the field of information retrieval; the results of her work are widely used today both in research and commercially. In addition to information retrieval, her research touched on question answering for databases, classification, and summarization. She is most well known for:

  • Her early research on synonymy and semantic classification, the first attempt to apply unsupervised classification to a space of information about words ultimately derived from their text occurrences, to produce a Thesaurus like Roget's. The empirical approach to semantics is now an important approach in the natural language community.
  • Her development of "inverse document frequency" or IDF weight. This weight, which is an important part of assessing the relative worth of query terms, laid the foundation for much of modern information retrieval today. It is heavily used in both research and commercial information retrieval systems.
  • Her development of evaluation methodology for information retrieval, including benchmarks, which led to the influential book Information Retrieval Experiment. Her subsequent influence on evaluation in all areas of human language technology was substantial; she was a leader in the design of both the TREC and DUC evaluation workshops, in which information retrieval, question answering and summarization are evaluated on a yearly basis.
  • Anyone who heard Dr. Spärck Jones' comments in discussion forums knows that her ability to identify the crux of the matter, coupled with sharp wit, made her someone who commanded attention. Her verbal ability was indeed a factor in her leadership role in bridging communities, both geographical and interdisciplinary. As President of the Association for Computational Linguistics and in the years following, Dr. Spärck Jones was instrumental in establishing the organization as one that is truly international.