Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM News

Overlooked No More: Karen Sparck Jones, Who Established the Basis for Search Engines


Karen Sparck Jones in 2002.

Karen Sparck Jones created a system that allowed people to search for data using words instead of code, establishing the basis of search engines.

Credit: Computer Laboratory/University of Cambridge

When most scientists were trying to make people use code to talk to computers, Karen Sparck Jones taught computers to understand human language instead.

In so doing, her technology established the basis of search engines like Google.

A self-taught programmer with a focus on natural language processing, and an advocate for women in the field, Sparck Jones also foreshadowed by decades Silicon Valley's current reckoning, warning about the risks of technology being led by computer scientists who were not attuned to its social implications.

"A lot of the stuff she was working on until five or 10 years ago seemed like mad nonsense, and now we take it for granted," said John Tait, a longtime friend who works with the British Computer Society.

Sparck Jones's seminal 1972 paper in the Journal of Documentation laid the groundwork for the modern search engine. In it, she combined statistics with linguistics — an unusual approach at the time — to establish formulas that embodied principles for how computers could interpret relationships between words.

 

From The New York Times
View Full Article

 


 

No entries found