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Karen Spärck Jones, the University of Cambridge CC BY

Karen Spärck Jones (1935–2007) was a British computer scientist. Her specialties were natural language processing and information retrieval.

Computer science work

Spärck Jones had a long history in experimental investigations of human language. She was the originator of the Inverse Document Frequency measure in information retrieval (1972, A statistical interpretation of term specificity and its application in retrieval., Journal of Documentation, 28:11–21) which is nearly ubiquitously used as part of the measure of the importance of various words contained in documents when searching for information. (The English word 'the', for example, is very unimportant, as it occurs in essentially all English documents, thus having high document frequency and low inverse document frequency.) . She was also at one time president of the Association for Computation Linguistics.

Awards Spärck Jones won in her lifetime include Fellowships of the American and European Artificial Intelligence societies, Fellowship of the British Academy, the ACL Lifetime Achievement Award and the Lovelace Medal of the British Computer Society.

Women's career outreach

Spärck Jones worked in career outreach to girls and women. In 2007 she reported that:

We were trying to get at girls in schools and we knew we had to get to the teachers first. We found that the spread of computing in administrative and secretarial world has completely devalued it. When one of the teachers suggested to the parents of one girl that perhaps she should go into computing the parents said: 'Oh we don't want Samantha just to be a secretary.'

She also said:

I think it's very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men.
I think women bring a different perspective to computing, they are more thoughtful and less inclined to go straight for technical fixes. My belief is that, intellectually, computer science is fascinating - you're trying to make things that don't exist.

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