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Frederick Jelinek, speech recognition pioneer, dies

Hopkins professor devised way to let computers grasp language

September 19, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Jason Eisner, associate professor of computer science at Hopkins, called Mr. Jelinek's application of statistical theory and probability to voice recognition a trailblazing approach that later was adapted to many other fields that employ artificial intelligence, including stock market prediction and biomedical research.

Mr. Jelinek retired from IBM in 1993 and was recruited by Hopkins to head its Center for Language and Speech Processing. Mr. Khudanpur said the center grew from two faculty members and two graduate students when Mr. Jelinek arrived to 10 faculty and 40 grad students.

Mr. Khudanpur said Mr. Jelinek acted as a "father figure" to younger scientists and remained vitally engaged in the work of the center until the final hours of his life.

"Fred retire? That's an oxymoron. He was never going to retire," Mr. Khudanpur said.

Among Mr. Jelinek's many professional awards, he was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2006 to honor his work in speech recognition.

In addition to his scientific pursuits, Mr. Jelinek's son said, he was an avid student of culture.

"He would go all over the world and wherever he went he would always make it a point to go to museums and cathedrals," William Jelinek said.

Mr. Jelinek also took a keen interest in the development of his native country and returned to Prague regularly — visiting more frequently after the end of communist rule in 1989. With the Cold War ended, he helped persuade IBM to set up a computing center at Charles University, where he spent a sabbatical year, and the Czech Institute of Technology.

"He was most comfortable in Prague," his son said. "He was back amongst his people."

In addition to his son, of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., and his wife, of New York, Mr. Jelinek is survived by a daughter, Hannah Sarbin of Larchmont, N.Y., a sister, Susan Abramowitz of Montreal, and three grandchildren.

Services were held Friday. Hopkins is expected to hold a memorial service at a later date.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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