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UC Berkeley Press Release

Richard Karp, renowned computer theorist, wins 2008 Kyoto Prize

– Richard Karp, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, has been named a laureate of the 2008 Kyoto Prize, Japan's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in recognition of his lifetime achievements in the field of computer theory.

Richard Karp
Richard Karp (Peg Skorpinski photo)
Karp, 73, is one of three laureates announced today (Friday, June 20) by the Inamori Foundation, which awards the Kyoto Prize annually to those who have contributed significantly to the betterment of humanity in the categories of advanced technology, basic sciences, and arts and philosophy.

Karp, a University Professor with joint appointments in the mathematics, bioengineering, and industrial engineering and operations research departments, is being honored in the advanced technology category, which focuses on information science.

The title University Professor, given by the UC Regents, is reserved for scholars of international distinction who are recognized and respected teachers with exceptional ability.

Each laureate will receive a diploma, a Kyoto Prize Medal of 20-carat gold, and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately US $460,000) during a week of ceremonies beginning Nov. 9. On March 18, 2009, the laureates will assemble in San Diego, Calif., for three days to participate in the eighth annual Kyoto Laureate Symposium.

"I'm very honored by this recognition, not only for myself, but for the field that I work in, which I think is of great value to society," said Karp in a recent interview with the Inamori Foundation.

Considered one of the world's leading computer theorists, Karp, who also holds a position as a senior research scientist at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, significantly advanced the theory of NP-completeness conceived in 1971 by former UC Berkeley math professor Stephen Cook.

The Inamori Foundation credited Karp's work on NP-completeness for developing a standard method for characterizing combinatorial problems into classes and identifying their level of intractability. Those that are "NP-complete" are the most difficult to solve. "Karp's theory streamlined algorithm design for problem-solving, accelerated algorithm engineering, and brought computational complexity within the scope of scientific research," according to a statement by the Inamori Foundation.

NP-completeness theory has become a cornerstone in modern theoretical computer science. In the 1980s, for their contributions to the concept of NP-completeness, Cook and Karp each received the Turing Award, the highest honor given in the field of computer science.

"It is a pleasure and privilege to have such an eminent scientist as Richard on campus," said S. Shankar Sastry, professor and dean at UC Berkeley's College of Engineering. "He practically defined the field of theoretical computer science, including the concepts of computational complexity and NP hardness of computational problems. He also helped develop theoretical computer science as a discipline at UC Berkeley, where it produced many important alumni and a spectacular record of achievements. Personally, I value his counsel, his uncompromising commitment to science and his vision and technical foresight."

More recently, Karp has applied his talents to the field of bioinformatics and computational biology, where computers and algorithms are used to analyze and model data to determine how genes and living cells work. He has developed algorithms for constructing various kinds of physical maps of DNA targets, and methods for classifying biological samples on the basis of gene expression data. His current interests are in the application of combinatorial and probabilistic methods to finding hidden patterns in gene expression data and discovering the structure of genetic regulatory networks.

The Kyoto Prize is the latest in a string of awards earned by Karp. Among the honors he has received in addition to the Turing Award are a U.S. National Medal of Science, Fulkerson Prize, Von Neumann Theory Prize, UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award and eight honorary degrees.

The other Kyoto Laureates announced today are Anthony Pawson, a distinguished investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Kyoto Prize recipient in basic sciences, and Charles Taylor, professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal and Kyoto Prize winner in arts and philosophy.

Both Pawson and Taylor have prior connections to UC Berkeley. From 1976 to 1980, Pawson was a post-doctoral fellow in molecular and cell biology, and Taylor served as a UC Berkeley visiting professor in philosophy in 1974 and 1983.

The laureates are selected through a strict and impartial process that considers candidates recommended from around the world.

Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera and KDDI Corp., established the Inamori Foundation in 1984. He founded the Kyoto Prize the following year, partly as a complement to the Nobel Prize, which does not recognize the fields of engineering or computer science.

"It is my hope that the Kyoto Prize will encourage balanced development of both our scientific progress and spiritual depth, and hence provide impetus toward the structuring of new philosophical paradigms," said Inamori.

As of Nov. 10, 2007, the Kyoto Prize has been awarded to 74 individuals and one group - collectively representing 12 nations, and ranging from scientists, engineers and researchers to philosophers, painters, architects, sculptors, musicians and film directors. The United States has produced the most recipients (32), followed by Japan (12), the United Kingdom (nine) and France (seven).