Research is the foundation of innovation, where invention would cease to exist without it.
Our latest #techspiration is Karen Spärck Jones – a leading researcher who has provided us with major theoretical contributions to the field of computer and information science.
She has inspired a whole generation of researchers and practitioners, which is why she is our focus for this month.
- Born on August 26th, 1935
- Karen Spärck Jones was educated at Girton, Cambridgeshire, where she completed her undergraduate degree, followed by a doctorate which was published as Synonymy and Semantic Classification, a paper recognised as being well ahead of its time
- She later became a Professor of Computers and Information at Cambridge University
- From 2000 – 2002 she was Vice President of the British Academy
- Jones married Roger Needham in 1958; he later became a Professor of Computer Systems at Cambridge
- Karen Spärck Jones had a wide range of interests outside of computer science. She and Roger Needham bought their first boat in 1961 and later sailed an 1872-vintage Itchen Ferry Cutter.
What makes her great?
Karen Spärck Jones spent over 50 years working in information retrieval and natural language processing. She influenced a generation, particularly women, to become computer scientists which was, and still is, a largely male dominated field.
She challenged existing research and thesauri in her career, such as Roget’s for example, to construct, what were in her eyes ‘better ones’.
Spärck Jones is responsible for the concept of inverse document frequency, a technology that underlies most modern search engines. She is also responsible for the term ‘weighting’ in relation to this.
Her most recent work includes document retrieval, which looks at speech applications, database query, user and agent modelling, alongside summarising, and information and language system evaluation. She has also worked on projects on automatic summarising, belief revision for information retrieval, video mail retrieval, and multimedia document retrieval. Without Jones, we simply wouldn’t understand information systems in the same way.
Why she’s a ‘techspiration’ to Claritas
The information age and instant search is integral to our modern life. By introducing Inverse Document Frequency, which is a statistical measure used to evaluate how important a word is to a document, and which is often used by search engines to score and rank a document’s relevance to a search query, Karen Spärck Jones made the accessibility of knowledge and information readily available to us.
She also fought for and encouraged equal opportunities in computer science: “I think women bring a different perspective to computing; they are more thoughtful and less inclined to go straight for technical fixes" she commented, along with: "I think it's very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men.”
Our favourite quote
My belief is that, intellectually, computer science is fascinating - you're trying to make things that don't exist.
Karen Spärck Jones