Robin Cohen

Robin Cohen has been a role model for women in CS in Canada for over 35 years, staying in academia, reaching the highest levels of administration at her university and demonstrating the potential for top honours, with such awards as Canadian AI’s Lifetime Achievement, and both uWaterloo’s Distinguished Teacher Award and Graduate Supervision Award. She stands out among all others through the unmatched recognition that her Masters and PhD students have achieved under her supervision.

Quite notably, at least four of her students have been awarded the Alumni Gold Medal, the top award a graduate student can receive at the University of Waterloo, and another three were awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Graduate Studies (the top graduate student award from the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo). One of her PhD students won the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association Doctoral Dissertation Award. Her training and mentorship have also helped her students become very successful professionally. Her former graduate students are now successful faculty members across Canada at places such as Waterloo, Ottawa, Mount Allison, New Brunswick, and Simon Fraser, and at leading international institutions, including Penn State (USA), Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), and IIT Delhi (India). Many of her students have gone on to work at large tech companies, such as IBM, Google, and Meta.

Prof. Cohen’s research has the truly impressive quality of being foundational in several important areas of AI. Her work in computational linguistics on argument understanding from the late 1970s is still being cited. She was one of the founding members of the User Modeling and Personalization community in the mid 1980s, which shaped some of the most important application areas of applied computing, fundamental to search engines and recommender systems used in e-commerce, e-learning, and social media. She is among the pioneers of the field of Trust and Reputation in the burgeoning area of multi-agent systems. Her contributions in this area not only provide advances with novel models and solutions but also serve to demonstrate the potential of results for such application areas as electronic marketplaces, social networking and self-driving vehicles. She was among the few early computer scientists with an interest in the social implications of computer technology, serving as the leading instructor of an upper-year undergraduate course on this topic and developing her own graduate-level course in the area. Her devotion this cause also led her to be one of the first with research papers on ethics and morality of AI agents, culminating in effort on the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence. In addition to publishing in some of the top international conferences and journals in AI, she has been a devoted champion of Canadian Artificial Intelligence, engaged with the society for this discipline since its inception and promoting attendance at their venues for her students.

Prof. Cohen’s achievements include as well significant effort in service to her research community. Most notable here is her serving as program co-chair of one of the earliest user modeling conferences, and playing an active role in establishing the first journal devoted to that field. She has consistently joined the program committees of the main top-tier conferences in AI (including their newly-established streams on social impact). More recently, she has also devoted considerable attention to the multiagent systems community, with effort to maintaining the flagship venue of the Trust Modeling workshop. Prof. Cohen has also been a driving force in supporting doctoral symposia at various conferences.

Through all her endeavours, Prof. Cohen has been noticed for her keen ability to forge entirely new directions for research, but what stands out as her true hallmark quality is that of empathy, apparent through her teaching, service and research, serving as an inspiration for generations of computer scientists to come.

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