A University of Washington professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering has been awarded one of this year’s prestigious fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, known as “genius grants.”

Yejin Choi uses natural language processing to develop artificial intelligence systems that can understand implied meanings in human languages, according to the UW.

“When I received the phone call from the Foundation, I thought they were going to ask me to do some consulting work,” Choi said in a news release. “My heart almost stopped beating when I heard ‘congratulations’ instead.”

According to Choi, only two other people who research natural language processing have received the award.

The fellowship comes with an $800,000 stipend, often referred to as the “genius grant.” Choi said she is working on plans for the award but hopes to use it to pursue impactful but potentially risky research ideas.

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Thirteen other UW faculty have received the MacArthur Fellowship including Trevor Bedford, an affiliate associate professor of genome sciences and of epidemiology, in 2021.

According to the UW, Choi has designed models that take both text and image inputs, and has used computational linguistics to help AI to identify sentiment or deceptive intent in writing. In that project, Choi’s research team was able to detect fake online consumer reviews and categorize news articles as a hoax, satire or trustworthy.

“Choi’s research brings us closer to computers and AI systems that can grasp more fully the complexities of language and communicate accurately with humans,” said the MacArthur Foundation.

Before joining the UW in 2014, Choi was an assistant professor in the computer science department at the State University of New York in Stony Brook and received her doctorate from Cornell University. Choi is also a senior research manager at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.