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The Scientist Who Developed a New Way to Understand Communication


Mark Braverman, a computer scientist at Princeton University specializing in information complexity, has been awarded the 2022 IMU Abacus Medal.

Credit: Sasha Maslov/Quanta Magazine

By the time he was 17, Mark Braverman had lived in three countries and spoke as many languages. But though he doesn't have a hometown, he's quick to call theoretical computer science his home. "Theoretical computer science is whatever you want it to be," he said in his airy office at Princeton University, sitting between a whiteboard bursting with mathematical equations and a wall decorated with family photos.

For more than a decade, Braverman, 38, has been developing a transformative new theory of interactive communication, expanding and enriching the pioneering work that Claude Shannon began eight decades ago. Braverman's growing framework allows researchers to translate abstract concepts like "information" and "knowledge" into precise mathematical terms. As a result, they can recast hard problems as more precise statements. This program has led to new insights into the limitations of computation and speaks directly to the way people interact online.

For this achievement and others, the International Mathematical Union has awarded Braverman the IMU Abacus Medal, widely considered the highest honor a computer scientist can receive. (The award was previously known as the Nevanlinna Prize, but it was renamed after historians pointed out that the Finnish researcher for whom it was named was a Nazi sympathizer.) The Abacus Medal is awarded only once every four years, and the winner must be under 40.

From Quanta Magazine
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