Robin Cohen receives 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award in Computer Science

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Cheriton School of Computer Science Professor Robin Cohen has received the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award in Computer Science from CS-Can | Info-Can, the non-profit society dedicated to representing all aspects of computer science and the interests of the discipline across Canada. Conferred annually since 2014, these prestigious awards recognize professors in departments, schools and faculties of computer science across the nation who have made exemplary and sustained contributions to computer science research, teaching and service over their careers. 

photo of Professor Robin Cohen“I’m pleased to congratulate Robin on her receiving a much-deserved 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award from CS-Can | Info-Can,” said Raouf Boutaba, Professor and Director of the Cheriton School of Computer Science. “Robin has an established and continuing record of excellence in artificial intelligence research, and she has been an outstanding leader to and mentor of new AI researchers. Moreover, she has been an inspiration to undergrads, grads and colleagues alike, as well as a strong role model to women in computer science throughout her career.”

The 2022 awards will be presented on June 7, 2023 at the CS-Can | Info-Can Annual Awards Gala, as part of the group’s conference held this year at McGill University.

“Although I try to avoid the limelight, I’m delighted to have had the chance to serve as an example of the opportunities that await all women in computer science these days,” Professor Cohen said.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who made this special recognition possible,” she continued. “To my husband, who enabled my success with this career path through his strong support and dedication at home; to my daughter, who accompanied me to many AI conferences and taught me much about societal concerns; to my father, who showed me the importance of empathy towards others; and to my mother, who modelled the true value of leadership. I am also grateful to my PhD supervisor, Ray Perrault at U of T, for launching my academic career, to the University of Waterloo for giving me a chance as a faculty member, and to Professor Ebrahim Bagheri, at Toronto Metropolitan University, who nominated me for this award.”

About Professor Robin Cohen

Professor Cohen has been a role model for women in computer science in Canada for more than 35 years, staying in academia, reaching the highest levels of administration at her university, and demonstrating the potential for top honours with such awards as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association, and both the Waterloo Distinguished Teacher Award and Waterloo Graduate Supervision Award. She also stands out through the unmatched recognition that her master’s and PhD students have achieved under her supervision. 

Quite notably, four of her students have received the Alumni Gold Medal, the top award a graduate student can receive at the University of Waterloo, and another three have received the Outstanding Achievement in Graduate Studies, the top graduate student award from the Faculty of Mathematics. One of her PhD students won the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association Doctoral Dissertation Award. 

Professor Cohen’s training and mentorship have also helped her students become successful professionally. Her former graduate students include faculty members at Canadian universities, including Waterloo, Ottawa, Mount Allison, New Brunswick, and Simon Fraser, and at leading international institutions, including Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and IIT Delhi in India. Additionally, many of her students have gone on to successful careers at large tech companies, among them IBM and Google. 

Professor Cohen’s research has the truly impressive quality of being foundational in several important areas of artificial intelligence. Her work in computational linguistics on argument understanding from the late 1970s is still being cited. She was one of the founding members of the user modelling and personalization community in the mid-1980s and is among the pioneers of the field of trust and reputation in the burgeoning area of multi-agent systems. Her contributions not only provide advances with novel models and solutions, but also serve to demonstrate the potential of results for such application areas as electronic marketplaces, social networking and self-driving vehicles.

She was among the few early computer scientists with an interest in the social implications of computer technology, serving as the leading instructor of an upper-year undergraduate course on this topic and developing her own graduate-level course in the area. Her devotion to this cause also led her to be one of the first with research papers on ethics and morality of AI agents, culminating in effort on responsible artificial intelligence. In addition to publishing in some of the top international conferences and journals in AI, she has been a devoted champion of Canadian artificial intelligence, engaged with the society for this discipline since its inception and promoting attendance at their venues for her students. 

Professor Cohen’s achievements also include exemplary service to her research community. Most notably, is her serving as a program co-chair of one of the earliest user modelling conferences, and playing an active role in establishing the first journal devoted to that field. She has consistently joined the program committees of the main top-tier conferences in AI, including their newly established streams on social impact. More recently, she has also devoted considerable attention to the multiagent systems community, with effort to maintaining the flagship venue of the trust modelling workshop. She has also been a driving force in supporting doctoral symposia at various conferences. 

Through all her endeavours, Professor Cohen has been recognized for her keen ability to forge entirely new directions for research. But what stands out as her true hallmark quality is that of empathy through her teaching, service and research, serving as an inspiration for generations of computer scientists to come.

Cheriton School of Computer Science Lifetime Achievement Awardees

Professor Cohen is the tenth faculty member at the Cheriton School of Computer Science to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from CS-Can | Info-Can.

Past recipients are University Professor Ming Li (2020 recipient), Professor J. Wesley Graham (2019 recipient awarded posthumously), University Professor Tamer Özsu (2018 recipient), Distinguished Professor Emeritus Don Cowan (2017 recipient), Professor Emeritus Ric Holt (2017 recipient), Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Brzozowski (2016 recipient), University Professor Ian Munro (2016 recipient), Distinguished Professor Emeritus Alan George (2015 recipient), and Distinguished Professor Emeritus Frank Tompa (2015 recipient).

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