R.I.P. Fred Jelinek

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Jason Eisner just forwarded to me this note from Nick Jones, the dean of the Engineering School at Johns Hopkins:

It is with great sadness that I am writing to share with you the news that a member of the Whiting School community, Fred Jelinek, passed away last night.

Fred, the Julian Sinclair Smith Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, had been the director of the Center for Language and Speech Processing since he joined the Whiting School faculty in 1993.

A respected researcher and teacher, Fred was a pioneer in the field of automatic speech recognition and natural language processing; indeed, many credit Fred with creating the technical foundations of the field as it stands today. He was among the first people to understand the importance of probabilistic modeling in automatic speech recognition and helped create the statistical methods that form the basis of today’s state-of-the art speech and language technology.

Born in Prague, Fred received his PhD at MIT and was a faculty member at Cornell before joining IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in 1972 as a senior manager of their Continuous Speech Recognition Group. There, from 1972 through 1993, Fred conducted seminal research in continuous speech recognition, machine language translation, and text parsing and understanding before returning to academia at the Whiting School.

Fred published widely and authored two books, Probabilistic Information Theory and Statistical Methods for Speech Recognition. Over the course of his career he also received numerous awards and honors, including being elected a Fellow of the IEEE and named one of twelve inaugural Fellows to the International Speech Communication Association (ISCA) as well as his 2006 election to the National Academy of Engineering.

Fred is survived by his wife Milena, son William, and daughter Hannah.

A memorial service for Fred is being planned and we will share the details as soon as they are available.

While we are all terribly saddened by the loss of such a valued colleague and friend, we feel confident that his legacy lives on in through generations of students and colleagues he has mentored and in our memories. We will inform the Homewood community of Fred’s passing later today, but I wanted to first express my condolences to his closest friends and colleagues at the Whiting School.

Jason adds that "He was in fine health and spirits and no one expected this.  Those of us who are here are still trying to absorb the loss ourselves".

I'll add some more personal remembrances and appreciations when I've had a chance to assimilate the news.

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