Remembering Our Colleague Peter Jackson
(updated August 9, 2011)
The sudden death this week of Peter Jackson, our Chief Scientist and head of R&D, came as a sad shock to the entire Thomson Reuters family. Peter was a man of immense talents, both professionally and personally, and his passing is a great loss. In his 15+ years here, Peter had a significant impact on the business and an important and meaningful effect on those who worked with him. He will be greatly missed. In honor of Peter, we wanted to share some memories from a few of Peter’s many colleagues and our blog’s contributors. We hope others will share their fondest memories of Peter here as well.
Memories from James Powell
Peter was the obvious choice for the position of Chief Scientist when we became Thomson Reuters in 2008, and it was a role he fulfilled with exceptional results, forming a 40-strong R&D group as a corporate-wide resource, and aligning our Research & Development capabilities with the major platform and strategy initiatives of recent years. Peter’s legacy at Thomson Reuters is significant and lasting. He oversaw the advanced technologies, such as CaRE, Concord and Results Plus, that enabled us to launch radical and successful new product platforms such as WestlawNext and PeopleMap. He was also integral to the development of our innovative Reuters Insider channel. On top of that he represented Thomson Reuters with great professionalism — and considerable personality and panache — in the wider world of conferences, academia and professional associations. He was a great ambassador for Thomson Reuters in his role overseeing university liaison with regards to joint research projects with institutions of the caliber of MIT, NYU and CMU. These achievements give some sense of Peter’s abilities and drive. Peter, though, had many more strings to his bow. He published three books and about 40 papers on his fields of expertise (artificial intelligence and natural language processing), and invented four US patents.
Above all, when it came to his work, Peter was proudest of the group that he built and worked with side-by-side every day. If this wasn’t enough for one man, he was also a talented musician and a serious music fan, serving for a number of years on the Board of Directors for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In recent times, he traveled to Chicago, New York and Ojai to support the SPCO on tour. The many of us who worked with Peter will miss greatly his enthusiasm, the clarity of his thinking, his wisdom and his wit.
Memories from Bob Schukai
Peter was one of the first people I met when I joined the company. Like so many others, he listened to my questions, was very candid about the things he was doing and had hoped to accomplish, and was incredibly proud of the achievements of his team.
Peter went out of his way several times to introduce me to people he thought would make my job easier, and more often than not, I could always count on Peter to provide an insightful comment on my blog. I never had to ask. This is the kind of person that Peter Jackson was – he was always thinking, and not just about the job but about the people and how he could find a way to share his thoughts, his contact list, his vision, his creativity, his laughter, and maybe most importantly, his genuine kindness. I will miss him tremendously.
Memories from Jen McClure
I can’t say that I knew Peter well. But I can say that Peter is definitely someone I would have liked to have had the opportunity to know better. I first met Peter at a conference here in the Bay Area earlier this year. He was a speaker at the event, which focused on big data, and he also kindly agreed to contribute his thoughts and ideas surrounding this topic to our new corporate blog. I got to spend more time with Peter earlier this summer, when he was a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and a frequent contributor to this blog again.
During that time, I discovered that Peter was an incredibly thoughtful man in every sense of the word. He was kind, generous with his time, genuinely interested in the thoughts and ideas of others, and a truly deep thinker on a wide variety of topics. In addition to science, Peter was interested in all aspects the future — the future of media and social media, education, work and politics. He was also a lover of music and the arts – a true renaissance man.
Memories from Jochen L. Leidner
When I met Peter Jackson in December 2007 for the first time after landing in a snowy suburb of Minneapolis, I immediately liked him, but little did I know that he would not only be my future boss (or rather, boss’ boss), but that I would soon be picnicking, singing karaoke with him on a boat, collaborating closely with him on innovation, and ultimately help start a lab in Switzerland a few years later that had been part of his larger vision for research and innovation at Thomson Reuters for a quite some time – a vision that sadly he won’t get to follow further as it’s coming into full swing.
He appreciated out-of-the-box thinking and any activities that stirred up mundane daily routine. Everybody who has ever worked with Peter will agree with me that he was a very kind and gracious person, always interested in people, as evidenced by occasional gifts of appreciation and invitations for monthly lunches with varying groups to take a pulse of what concerned researchers and developers in the trenches and random treats of bagels, spread & coffee for everybody. One day, after a co-worker and I had organized a small event, he surprised us with a dining voucher for an Alsacian restaurant. Having been born at the Palatine-Alsacian border, I had no idea such a treasure was hidden in a strip mall just minutes away.
Peter liked his electric guitars, bass, electric pianos, and he has accrued a sizable collection in his lifetime. He also liked spaniels, guns and shoes by his own admission. But as I would soon find out in the corporate cafeteria, his love of music didn’t stop at collecting artifacts: he was an accomplish musician, who could indulge in an impromptu jazz performance in front of any audience, such as hundreds of Thomson Reuters employees, which he entertained with his “Jazzkickers.” There are very few senior managers that you can hire to perform at your birthday or wedding party!
Peter Jackson was born on Barbados as the son of an Englishman, who was involved in the ship building sector there. After undergraduate studies of Psychology at the University of Leeds in England, he obtained a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence from the same institution. He was a Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh, where he was also a founding member of the Center for Speech Technology Research (CSTR). He also was a visiting professor at Singapore Polytechnic. In the late 1980s, he moved to the U.S. to to serve as a Principal Scientist at McDonnell Douglas Corporation. After teaching topics like AI, C++ and parallel programming at Clarkson University in New York, he joined the Thomson Corporation through an acquisition, was made its Chief Scientist, and became VP of Technology and Chief Scientist of the combined Thomson Reuters Corporation after the acquisition in April 2008.
His research interests included many aspects of natural language processing and automated reasoning as well as the application of these technologies to the improvement of search and other aspects of the user experience. He represented Thomson Reuters on the board of the SIIA Content Division and also on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. He also served two years on the board of directors of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was a member of AAAI, IEEE and ACM, and a frequent reviewer for ACL, SIGIR, ACM Computing Reviews, ICAIL and other publications. He has also published three books (Introduction to Expert Systems, Logic Based Knowledge Representation and Natural Language Processing for Online Applications), 40 papers, and 4 patents, but he will be remembered for his personality and wit more than anything else.
We hope that others will share their thoughts and memories here as well.