Karen Spärck Jones: Unravelling natural language

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Bill Thompson

The renowned computer scientist Karen Spärck Jones died in 2007, aged only seventy-one. Her husband Roger Needham, another computer scientist who she’d married in 1958, had died of cancer in 2003 shortly after his sixty-eighth birthday. I wrote her obituary for The Times, as I’d written Roger’s four years earlier. I’d written an obituary for their colleague David Wheeler in 2004, and already had Maurice Wilkes’ on file, though it wasn’t needed until 2010 as he lived to be ninety-seven.

Although writing obituaries was never a full-time occupation, as a technology journalist with a computing degree I was regularly commissioned by The Times to cover well-known figures in the computing industry or computer science, and these four clearly merited coverage in “the paper of record”. After all, Spärck Jones, Needham, Wheeler and Wilkes had been key members of the generation th...



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Posted in STEM Stories.