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Jack Minker (1927–2021)

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Jack Minker

ACM fellow Jack Minker passed away on April 9, 2021, at the age of 93.

Minker was a leader in the development of automating logistic reasoning, including deductive databases, logic programming, and artificial intelligence, but he is perhaps best known for his efforts to promote the social responsibility of scientists and human rights.

In 1972, Minker was invited to join the newly constituted Committee of Concerned Scientists. He was asked to help identify Soviet computer scientists whose human rights were under attack by their government, frequently because of their career choices or because they had requested permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union. "It was something I could not refuse to do," said Jack in 2011. The following year, he became the organization's Vice-Chair, Computer Science, a position he held until his death.

Minker also served as Vice-Chair of the ACM Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights from 1980 until 1989. He authored the Committee's 1981, 1982, 1984, and 1989 reports that named hundreds of people who had been unjustly imprisoned, tortured, subjected to internal exile, or denied exit visas by their governments. "Because of non-scientific considerations, some of our colleagues have been murdered, some are in jail, others are in exile in their own country, some are prevented from publishing papers in journals or attending conferences in their own country, some have been dismissed from their scientific jobs and others are trying to emigrate to countries where their human rights will not be violated," Minker wrote in a SIGMOD article about the project.

The first three reports provoked some controversy, as nearly all of those named were Jewish "refuseniks" in the Soviet Union. The 1989 report attempted to address this imbalance, and named computer professionals in Argentina, Chile, China, Czechoslovakia, Iran, Israel, Kenya, Poland, South Africa, and Turkey who had all allegedly been mistreated by their governments within the context of their work in computing. "Almost every individual on Minker's lists has had his or her human rights restored," said Ambassador Richard Schifter, then head of human rights at the U.S. State Department, at a talk given in honor of Minker's 65th birthday.

Minker graduated from Brooklyn College in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts, received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1950, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. He worked in industry before joining the University of Maryland in 1967. He became a Professor of Computer Science in 1971 and was named the first chair of the CS department in 1974. He became Professor Emeritus in 1998.

Minker had over 150 refereed publications and edited or co-edited five books. He chaired the U.S. National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Computing from 1980 to 1982 and was a member of the U.S. National Air and Space Administration's Robotics Study Group.

In addition to being named a Fellow of the ACM, Minker was also a Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science (1989), a founding Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence AAAI (1990), and a Fellow of the Institute of Electronic Engineers (1991). He was the 1985 recipient of ACM's Outstanding Contribution Award and the ACM Allen Newell Award in 2005. He received the 2011 Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights Award from the NY Academy of Scientists Human Rights Committee. Following his retirement, he wrote Scientific Freedom and Human Rights, Scientists of Conscience During the Cold War (2011), published by IEEE Press.

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