• ? -
    Jan 27, 2009
    (d.)

Bio/Description

Active in research for over four decades at the IBM Thomas J. Watsons Research Center in Yorktown, NewYork, he was an American pioneer of research on natural language processing and data mining. Born in Parma, Ohio, son of the late Berta (Hell) and Frederick John Damerau, he was raised in Angola, N. Y., near Buffalo. He earned his B.A. in Mathematics from Cornell University in 1953. After graduation, he entered the United States Air Force where he worked in photo-radar intelligence. He later earned his Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale. One of his most influential and ground-breaking papers was "A Technique for Computer Detection and Correction of Spelling Errors" published in 1964. He also developed and patented for IBM the first algorithm for placing hyphens automatically in words. In 1971 he published the book "Markov Models and Linguistic Theory: An Experimental Study of a Model for English." His information theory and computer science known as the “Damerau–Levenshtein distance” (named for him and Vladimir I. Levenshtein) is a distance (string metric) between two strings; i.e., finite sequence of symbols, given by counting the minimum number of operations needed to transform one string into the other, where an operation is defined as an insertion, deletion, or substitution of a single character, or a transposition of two adjacent characters. In his seminal paper, he not only distinguished these four edit operations but also stated that they correspond to more than 80% of all human misspellings. His paper considered only misspellings that could be corrected with at most one edit operation. While the original motivation was to measure distance between human misspellings to improve applications such as spell checkers, Damerau–Levenshtein distance has also seen uses in biology to measure the variation between DNA. He received numerous awards and held several patents including: Automatic hyphenation scheme, US 3537076 A. He was also an author or co-author of several publications including: “Problems and Some Solutions in Customization of Natural Language Database Front Ends”, Journal, ACM Transactions on Information Systems (TOIS), Volume 3 Issue 2, April 1985. He lived for 40 years in North Salem, N.Y. where he was very active in town activities. Then he and his wife spent the last five years of his life in Goshen, New York. He died on January 27, 2009 after an eight month battle with stomach cancer.
  • Date of Death:

    Jan 27, 2009
  • Noted For:

    Pioneer in the area of on natural language processing and data mining leading to automatic hyphenation and spell-checker
  • Category of Achievement:

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