Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

In Memoriam Alain Colmerauer: 1941-2017

Alain Colmerauer in a recent photo.
Artificial intelligence pioneer Alain Colmerauer passed away on May 12.

Alain Colmerauer, a French computer scientist and a father of the logic programming language Prolog, passed away on May 15 at the age of 76.

Alain Marie Albert Colmerauer was born in the French town of Carcassonne on Jan. 24, 1941.

He earned a degree in computer science from the Institut polytechnique de Grenoble (Grenoble Institute of Technology) in 1963, and a doctorate in the discipline in 1967 from the École nationale supérieure d'informatique et de mathématiques appliquées de Grenoble, which is part of the Institut.

The newly minted doctor spent 1967–1970 as assistant professor at the University of Montreal, where he created Q-Systems, a method of directed graph transformations according to given grammar rules. 

Colmerauer moved to the University of Aix-Marseille at Luminy in 1970 as Professeur 2ème classe (associate professor). He was promoted in 1979 to Professeur 1ère classe (Full Professor), and in 1988 to Professeur classe exceptionnelle (University Professor).

He was the center of a research group that, in the early 1970s, first conceived of Prolog (an abbreviation for "programmation en logique," which is French for "programming in logic"), a general-purpose logic programming language rooted in first-order logic that is well-suited for tasks that benefit from rule-based logical queries such as searching databases, voice control systems, and filling templates.

In 1972, Colmerauer worked with Philippe Roussel to develop the first Prolog system; its first implementations were interpreters.

In 1984, Colmerauer created the company Prologia to exploit the development of Prolog III. In 2000, the software company, which came to specialize in financial risk planning and management (as well as mortgages), became a part of the Air Liquide services group. In 2005, it was purchased by Experian, which made it part of the company's specialist decision support business, Experian-Scorex.

Prolog, as an elegant realization of programming in logic, has influenced a generation of researchers. It has been the basis for research in a variety of application areas, including natural language understanding and dialog, planning, symbolic computing, and probabilistic programming. Notably, Prolog played a key role in IBM's Watson question answering system, the winner of the Jeopardy Man vs. Machine Challenge.

Colmerauer was also one of the founders, in 1987, of the field of constraint logic programming, a form of constraint programming in which logic programming is extended to include concepts from constraint satisfaction.

In 1982, Colmerauer shared with Henry Kanoui and Michel Van Caneghem la Pomme d'Or du Logiciel Francais, an award from Apple France for a Prolog II implementation. In 1984, he received an award by the Conseil Regional of Provence, Alpes, and Côte d'Azur, and in 1985 he received the Michel Monpetit Award from the French Academy of Sciences. In 1986, he was made Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government. He became Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in 1991, and received the ACP Research Excellence Award, Principles and Practice of Constraint Programming in 2008. He was also a Correspondent of the French Academy of Sciences in the area of Mathematics.

In 2000, Colmerauer became Professeur classe exceptionnelle at the Faculty of Sciences of Luminy, University II of Aix-Marseille, Institut Universitaire de France; he became Emeritus Professor there in 2006. From 1993 to 1995, he was Head of the Laboratoire d'Informatique de Marseille (LIM), a joint laboratory of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the University de Provence and the University de la Mediterranee.

Colmerauer was married to Colette Coursaget, and they had three children.

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