David L. Waltz, computer science pioneer, former Brandeis professor, dies at 68

Photo/Eileen Barroso for Columbia Engineering

David L. Waltz

David L. Waltz, a prominent computer scientist who taught at Brandeis from 1984 through 1993 and whose early research had a huge impact on today’s Internet search engines, died of brain cancer at the University Medical Center in Princeton, N.J. on March 22. He was 68.

At the time of his death, Waltz was director of the Center for Computational Learning Systems (CCLS) at Columbia University.

“David was a wonderful colleague — thoughtful and a dedicated mentor to the junior faculty,” said Tim Hickey, professor of computer science and former chair of the department.

Waltz was instrumental in establishing the Volen National Center for Complex Systems, collaborating on the proposal to garner funding from the Federal Government. He also helped grow the computer science department and its Ph.D. program.

Hickey noted that “Cite Seer,” an invaluble website, which indexes all computer science research articles, was developed at NEC research while under the leadership of Dr. Waltz.

Jordan Pollack, professor of computer science and current chair of the department, fondly recalled his time in Urbana, Illinois as one of Waltz’s students.

“David was a very nice man – brilliant, but humble,” Pollack recalled. “He had a very ambitious research agenda yet was never dismissive of people or their ideas.”

The pair wrote several papers together while Pollack was a Ph.D. student; together they helped define the field of connectionist natural language processing in the early 1980s.  Among the papers they published is “Massively Parallel Parsing.”

Waltz is survived by his wife Bonnie, brother, Peter; a son, Jeremy; a daughter, Vanessa  and a granddaughter, Hannah.

For additional information, see the New York Times obituary.

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