2016 Lecture (Dr Sharon Goldwater lecture)

Roger Needham Lecture 2016

by Academy Admin

This is an annual public lecture delivered by the winner of the Roger Needham award.

The 2016 lecture was held on 21 November 2016 at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG. Dr Sharon Goldwater delivered her lecture, "Language learning in humans and machines", to an audience of 120 people.



Dr Sharon Goldwater


'Language learning in humans and machines: making connections to make progress'. 

Computer processing of speech and language has advanced enormously in the last decade, with many people now using applications such as automatic translation, voice-activated search, and even language-enabled personal assistants. Yet these systems still lag far behind human capabilities, and the success they do have relies on machine learning methods that learn from very large quantities of human-annotated data (for example speech data with transcriptions or text labelled with syntactic parse trees). These resource-intensive methods mean that effective technology is available for only a tiny fraction of the world's 5000 or more languages, mainly those spoken in large rich countries. 

The talk argued that, in order to solve this problem, we need a better understanding of how humans learn and represent language in our minds, and we need to consider how human-like learning biases can be built into computational systems. Dr Goldwater illustrated these ideas using examples from her own research. She discussed why language is such a difficult problem, what we know about human language learning, and showed how her own work has taken inspiration from that to develop better methods for computational language learning. 


About this year's speaker

Sharon Goldwater is a Reader in the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation at the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics. She received her PhD from Brown University, supervised by Mark Johnson, and spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University before moving to Edinburgh. Her research interests include probabilistic machine learning approaches to natural language processing (especially unsupervised approaches), computer modelling of language acquisition in children, and computational studies of language use. Dr Goldwater holds a Scholar Award from the James S McDonnell Foundation for her work on "Understanding synergies in language acquisition through computational modelling". Outside of research, Dr Goldwater enjoys DIY, sewing, baking, and Argentine tango. 


 Pictured above, from left, are:

 Dr Emaneule D'Osualdo - Distinguished Dissertation winner 2016
 Dr Sharon Goldwater - Needham Award winner 2016
 Prof Philippa Gardner - Chair, Academy Awards Committee
 Daniel Tarlow - Microsoft Research (sponsor)
 Prof Jeff Magee - Chair, Academy Board

 Pictured below, from left, are:

 Dr Emaneule D'Osualdo - DIistinguished Dissertation winner 2016
 Dr Luana Micallef - Distinguished Dissertation runner-up 2016
 Dr Sharon Goldwater - Needham Award winner 2016
 Dr Jie Xiong - Distinguished Dissertation runner-up 2016


Past lectures 

2015 Professor Niloy J.Mitra 'Linking Form and Function, Computationally' 

2014 Dr Natasa Przulj 'Mining biological networks' 

2013 Dr Boris Motik 'Theory and Practice: The Yin and Yang of Intelligent Information Systems' 

2012 Professor Dino Distefano 'Memory Safety Proofs for the Masses' 

2011 Professor Maja Pantic 'Machine Understanding of Human Behaviour'. 

2010 Dr Joël Ouaknine 'Timing is Everything'. 

2009 Dr Byron Cook 'Proving that programs eventually do something good'. 

2008 Professor Wenfei Fan 'A Revival of Data Dependencies for Improving Data Quality'. 

2007 Professor Mark Handley 'Evolving the Internet: Challenges, Opportunities and Consequences'. 

2006 Dr. Andrew Fitzgibbon 'Computer Vision & the Geometry of Nature'. 

2005 Professor Ian Horrocks 'Ontologies and the Semantic Web'. 

2004 Dr Jane Hillston 'Tuning Systems: From Composition to Performance'.