Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nobels

Since we've been talking about prizes, let me mention the recently announced Nobel awards for 2009.


In Physics, half the prize goes to two retired researchers from the old Bell Labs, Willard Boyle and George Smith. According to Wikipedia, this is the 7th time the Nobel prize is won for work done at Bell Labs.

Of course, the Lab is not what it used to be. After the famous AT&T/Lucent split of 1996, AT&T Bell Labs split into Lucent's Bell Labs (currently in a somewhat precarious state), and AT&T Labs, Inc. AT&T Labs experienced massive corporate pain at one point (famously firing an entire machine learning group in one shot), but currently appears to be in good shape (for instance, two machine learning researchers from AT&T were in the team that won the recent Netflix Challenge).

Of course, there is no active Physics research going on today, so the Nobel is only about past glory. But could the Labs win a Turing award for current work? Possibly, although it's certainly not a top contender. At least some baby steps are being taken to turn this place back into a real research lab: Howard Karloff recently bought a ping-pong table.

***

In other news, Herta Müller won the Nobel in literature. She is a Romanian-born Banat Schwab (a German ethnic group in Romania and Serbia). She lived the first 34 years in Romania, and later emigrated to Germany in 1987. Her work focuses on the harsh life under Romanian communism, and so she was not allowed to publish freely before leaving Romania.

In Romania, her work is essentially unknown -- as you might imagine, we have enough Romanian-language authors writing on the same topic, some of which are unquestionably very good.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why is there no Nobel price for computer science?

Anonymous said...

You don't mention the other step AT&T Labs took towards becoming a serious research lab which could be a contender for the Tuning award -- that is hiring Mihai Patrascu.

Jeffe said...

Of course, there is no active Physics research going on today, so the Nobel is only about past glory.

Say WHAT?!


Why is there no Nobel price for computer science?

Because a computer scientist slept with Nobel's wife.

g, said...

I disagree somewhat with your assessment of Herta Muller's position within Romanian literature.

Granted, she's no Danielle Steele or John Grisham (in terms of celebrity or, thank god for that, style). However many of her books have been sellings for quite some time, e.g.

http://www.polirom.ro/catalog/carte/regele-se-nclina-si-ucide-1768/

and she's definitely well-known to the well-read public.

The fact that she's not as high-profile as some of the "intellectual media celebrities" is definitely a failure of media in this country.

But don't judge a country's culture by its mainstream media (just as valid for the United States as it is for Romania).

Best,
Gabriel Istrate

Anonymous said...

Because a computer scientist slept with Nobel's wife.

I thought that was a mathematician. I doubt there were any computer scientists back in the day (this is like 1900).

rgrig said...

Mihai: Of course, there is no active Physics research going on today, so the Nobel is only about past glory. But could the Labs [...]

Jeffe: Say WHAT?!

Well, a simple google search on http://www.research.att.com/ doesn't reveal anything particularly interesting. Why do you think otherwise?

Anonymous said...

>Of course, there is no active physics research going on today, so the Nobel is only about past glory.

>there is no active physics research going on today

I lol'd.

Mihai said...

Gabi, perhaps my sample is not representative, but the few Romanians who did read some of her work and talked to me about it did not actually like it... It may be the case of the person selling crushed ice to Eskimos under the label "most important ingredient in your tropical cooler."