ACM Infosys award 2009 goes to Cornell Professor Jon Kleinberg

ACM Infosys Foundation Award 2008 goes to Professor Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University

On April 28, 2009 ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) and Infosys gave a Press Release formally announcing the 2008 ACM – Infosys Foundation Award; Cornell Computer Science Professor Jon Kleinberg, 37, won the award for contemporary contributions in computer science by way of vastly improved algorithms for web searching techniques. The award, instituted in August 2007 to commemorate the completion of 25 years of Infosys Corporation, rewards young researchers, typically less than 40 years of age. In its very first year the award went to Professor Daphne Koller of Stanford University for her contributions to Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically for her insights that combined Bayesian mathematics with machine learning.


The citation for the 2008 award goes as follows


“Jon Kleinberg’s work on the use of link analysis led to the design of vastly improved algorithms for Web search. His connection between network structure and information was a fundamental breakthrough that has transformed the way that information is retrieved on the Web. His work on the small world phenomenon provides deep insight into the structure of networks and helps explain the social phenomenon of “six degrees of separation.”


Dame Wendy Hall, President of ACM had the following to say on the award    


“Professor Kleinberg’s achievements mark him as a founder and leader of social network analysis in computer science. With his innovative models and algorithms, he has broadened the scope of computer science to extend its influence to the burgeoning world of the Web and the social connections it enables.  We are fortunate to have the benefit of his profound insights into the link between computer network structure and information that has transformed the way information is retrieved and shared online.”  



The actual award ceremony is slated for June 27, 2009 at San Diego in USA. This global award carries prize money of $ 150,000


The goals of the award are well articulated. According to Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO, Infosys


“Our goal is to identify breakthroughs that have broad implications well beyond the scope of the innovation itself, and that reflect an underlying scientific or engineering methodology that is remarkable for its rigor or for its sheer audacity”


Professor Kleinberg’s algorithms, notably his “Hub and Authorities” algorithm along with Google’s Page-Rank algorithm, allows computers to effortlessly catalog, classify and prioritize vast amounts of data, hitherto impossible even with powerful computers. Using his algorithms and the insights gained through his algorithms Professor Kleinberg is able to quantitatively demonstrate the “small world experience” so effectively articulated by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 60’s through the notion of “six degrees of separation”, that talked of just six relationships that generally separate any two human beings on earth. The “diffusion and cascading behavior of social networks” is Professor Kleinberg’s “computer science based” explanation of the “small world”. Kleinberg’s algorithm also explains as to how quickly some stories rise in popularity on the web and the relative speed with which they disappear (while a handful of them stay at the top).


Professor Kleinberg’s research has appeared in a wide range of journals including


  • Nature (2000) “Navigation in the small world”
  • Computing Surveys (1999) “Hubs and Authorities”
  • CACM (Communications of ACM) (2008) “The convergence of social and technological networks”
  • WWW 09 (2009) “Mapping the world’s photos”
  • STOC (Symposium on Theory of Computing) (2000) “Authoritative sources in a hyper-linked environment”
  • KDD (Knowledge Discovery & Datamining) (2005) “Graphs over time”
  • HT (Hypertext) (2008) Link structures & social processes


Professor Kleinberg is not only an accomplished researcher but an engaging teacher as well. He is very popular among undergraduate students for his uncanny ability to explain complex ideas in a lucid and clear manner. In fact the students have given him a nickname “Rebel King”; interestingly, it is an anagram of his last name!


Professor Kleinberg is an accomplished researcher. He is a MacArthur Fellow (2005) and was named as one of the “Best brains under 40” by Discover Magazine. He is a Member of both the academies, namely,


  1. National Academy of Engineering, and,
  2. National Academy of Arts & Sciences


Professor Kleinberg obtained his undergraduate degree (A.B) in Computer Science from Cornell University. After obtaining his PhD degree from MIT Professor Kleinberg joined Cornell University in 1996; he is teaching at Cornell since then.


Along with Professor Eva Tardos of the same department in Cornell University Professor Kleinberg wrote a new text 


“Algorithm Design” published by Addison Wesley (2005)


This book takes a refreshingly different approach to undergraduate teaching of algorithms with a focus on real world problems. The text includes 200 home work problems that are intellectually challenging, yet inspired from real world problems (inspired by the challenges faced by corporations like Yahoo and Oracle)



Professor Kleinberg started a new generation course on




at Cornell University along with Professor David Easley of the Economics Department. Cambridge University Press is publishing a book based on the key ideas developed in this course. Several other universities around the world are planning to offer a similar course in the forthcoming years.



What does it mean to you, the students?


Professor Kleinberg in one of his video interview gives the following advice to students pursuing research


Computer Science is a field expanding enormously; in such a field it is not good to specialize too quickly or to take the view that “this is all that I need to know, because I am going to work on the problem only”. No one knows what techniques you will need at a later stage. Try to learn things more broadly


With IT taking up considerable space in the media, you often hear the “billion of dollars” made by companies and “millions of dollars” made by individuals. Yet behind these “millions and billions” are powerful ideas articulated by outstanding researchers.


  • Google could not have been successful but for the efficient ways to solve large scale linear programs pioneered by the legendary G B Dantzig (University of California, Berkeley)


  • Apple iPod and similar digital audio devices would not have been possible without MP3 compression algorithm pioneered by the researchers at Fraunhofer Institute in Germany


  • Our own Infosys & Wipro would not have made it big without the availability of the Internet and the highly scalable TCP/IP protocol pioneered by researchers Vint Cerf (currently with Google) and Bob Kahn (inventor of Ethernet)


While the billions of dollars are important to create millions of jobs, it is equally important for a country to have contributed to the creation of powerful ideas that lie behind many organizational successes.


Infosys has prided itself by instituting an international award of such exalted stature; it is imperative that many of you students take up the challenge of winning ACM-Infosys Foundation Award over the next 20 years. An Indian researcher from an Indian Institute winning this award alone would do proud to the Institutes and the country.


Best Wishes

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