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Zue named interim head of LCS

Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti has named Professor Victor Zue, a leader in computer spoken-dialog systems and long-time deputy to the late Michael Dertouzos, as the interim director of the Laboratory for Computer Science.

"I am pleased to report that Victor Zue has agreed to become the interim director of LCS and Anant Agarwal has agreed to continue as associate director," Magnanti said in an e-mail to members of the LCS on Aug. 31. Dertouzos died on Aug. 27 at the age of 64.

Magnanti said Zue and Agarwal "have formed a closely knit leadership team with Michael and have been instrumental in ensuring LCS's stature as one of the preeminent computer science laboratories in the world. They both have been key figures in launching and organizing Project Oxygen, have led other large-scale seminal efforts, and have been deeply immersed in essentially all facets of management of the lab."

Magnanti praised their leadership in research. "Through the Spoken Language Systems Group that he heads, Victor and his colleagues have changed the way people think about and use speech systems--from recognition only to understanding; from transcription to spoken dialog; and from speech-only to multimodal (speak, type, watch, click). Victor has also been instrumental in launching such important and significant programs as the EPOCH IT effort with Taiwanese industries, the NTT partnership and the Speech Consortium, as well as the Oxygen Alliance.

"Through the Computer Architecture Group, Anant and his colleagues have pioneered exciting new computer architectures that will lead to increasing performance, in part by developing simple, wire-efficient architectures that scale with increase VLSI (very large scale integrated) gate densities. Recently, through the RAW project, Anant has pushed the boundaries of what can be done with configurable hardware. Along with Jeff Lang, Anant has also redesigned one of the EECS [electrical engineering and computer science] department's core courses, 6.002 (Circuits and Signals)," Magnanti said.

Zue received the Sc.D. in EECS from MIT in 1976. Since then, he has held many Institute teaching and research positions. Last December, he was named the first holder of the Delta Electronics chair in research.

Dertouzos paid tribute to Zue when the latter was appointed in June to the EECS faculty.

Zue "envisioned, defined and led the movement that others followed" in spoken dialog systems, Dertouzos said. "Today, the Galaxy architecture for speech-understanding systems, pioneered by Victor and his team, is widely in use in leading research centers ... Victor achieved this major shift by building several real systems, including Jupiter (weather), Pegasus (flight arrival/departure info), Voyager (navigation) and Mercury (airline bookings).

"The original Voyager system (1989) was the pioneering experiment that put together, for the first time anywhere, all the components Victor was advocating as essential to a speech system--speech recognition, natural language understanding and generation, domain discourse, dialogue and synthesis. The jump in performance of that prototype, relative to the then-existing approaches, was so big that observers did not believe its performance and chastised the group for ... hiding a person behind the machine!" Dertouzos said.

Dertouzos recalled that early in Zue's career, "he was exposed to the widely held belief by then-eminent scientists that the actual acoustic signal (represented as the power spectrum) of spoken words isn't enough to carry all the information of what was said. He set to prove the contrary in a novel and personal way--he learned how to 'read' these spectrograms with his own eyes. He would look at a pictorial representation of a spoken phrase and he would tell you what was spoken."

Zue has written more than 150 papers, taught many courses in EECS and supervised more than 50 graduate theses. He has consulted for multinational corporations and has served on many planning, advisory and review committees for the US Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 12, 2001.

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