Frederick Jelinek — A Semantic Giant Passes
Frederick Jelinek, who revolutionized language recognition by using statistical theory and probabilities instead of codifying rules, died in his office at John Hopkins on September 14 at the age of 77. The approach that he pioneered in the context of computer speech recognition, analyzing text databases for word patterns and the probability of words appearing relative to other words in text databases, became the foundation for many applications beyond voice recognition, including, most importantly, automated classification and organization, e.g., predictive coding, in today’s advanced eDiscovery tools and systems.
Dr. Jelinek survived the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, where, as the child of a Jewish father and a mother who had converted to Judaism, he was barred from attending school and compelled to study underground. He emigrated to the United States in 1949. After earning three degrees from MIT, Dr. Jelinek taught at MIT, Harvard and Cornell before joining IBM, where he rose from a summer position to heading a team using supercomputers to analyze speech. After retiring from IBM in 1993, he was was recruited by Johns Hopkins to head its Center for Language and Speech Processing.