IEEE President-Elect Howard Michel,
CSS President Jay Farrell and CSS Officers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great honor for me to receive this major recognition from the IEEE in the control systems field. I thank the IEEE, I thank those who were involved in the nomination process and in the selection process, and I thank the broader Control Systems community where I have always found a warm home and a friendly, conducive environment.
It is particularly meaningful to me to receive this award at this particular CDC. The veryfirst CDC I attended was 44 years ago, in 1971, in Miami Beach, exactly to the date (15-17 December), where I presented a paper as a student in a session titled “Min-Max, Game Theory and Applications”. Certain things don’t change (as this year, at this conference, one could easily have a session titled likewise, possibly more refined; and in fact there are several). But on other fronts things have changed dramatically in 40 plus years. The 1971 CDC was a much smaller scale meeting (only 4 or 5 tracks, 2 sessions in each track per day, as opposed to 20-22 tracks here, with 3 sessions in each per day, translating into 8-9-fold increase in the number of papers in the program). It pleases me immensely to see this growth in the control community, in numbers as well as in terms of enrichment of topical areas, and I have enjoyed witnessing this growth and excitement over the years, wearing different hats, as author, as advisor, as conference organizer, as society president, and as journal editor.
In these speeches, it has been traditional for the awardee to talk a bit about the journey he or she has taken over the years in this scientific wonderland, and I dare not abandon that tradition. My journey started in a German hospital in Istanbul on a cold January morning, to the delight (I was told later) of a mother who was a chemical engineer and a father who was an accountant. Fast-forwarding 10 or so years, my parents enrolled me in a British school in Istanbul, where I had my middle school as well as high school education, and where most of my teachers were from Scotland. Following high school, it was a natural path for me to take to enter an American College, again in Istanbul (Robert College, now called Boğaziçi University), where I pursued electrical engineering, and switched from Scottish to American accent, or a blend of the two! Robert College had a rigorous, high quality education system (and still does as Boğaziçi University), which prepared me well for post-graduate education (MS and Ph.D.), which I pursued at Yale, in Engineering and Applied Science (at that time it was a single department with that name, providing a multidisciplinary curriculum; later it split into 4, one of which is electrical engineering). There, I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor and advisor, Max Mintz (who is now on the faculty of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania), who introduced me to the fascinating worlds of statistical decision theory, minimax estimation and control, and zero-sum stochastic games. I was also fortunate to meet (among many others) Leonard Savage, one of the founders of statistical decision theory, who served as a member of my thesis committee (until his untimely death just a couple of months before my final defense).
Now, this brings me back to December 1971 in the timeline, when I was in the final stages of my Ph.D. research, and made that trip to Miami Beach, to present some results from my thesis. Another purpose of the trip was to meet with Larry Ho (an earlier recipient of this award), who was working at the time (among other topics) on information structures and team decision theory, which interested me a lot (and still does!), but more relevant was the fact that he had an opening for a Research Fellow position at Harvard. I had an engaging breakfast conversation with Larry, the day after he had presented his award-winning 2-part paper (with K.C. Chu) on dynamic stochastic teams. I received an offer the following week, and moved to Harvard at the end of February 1972.
My stay at Harvard added another dimension to my research interests, expanding fromzero-sum to nonzero-sum dynamic games—an area that was still in its infancy at the time. I left Harvard after 18 months with more questions than answers—questions that seemed to be esoteric at the time, mostly curiosity-driven (at least for me, and a few other people)—now fast-forwarding 30 years, the same questions and the answers obtained in the intervening years became fundamental building blocks of networking research, with real applications in internet communications, distributed control, multi-agent systems, cyber-physical systems, social networks, and the smart grid, to list just a few.
After leaving Harvard, I went back to Turkey, and by sheer luck landed at a newly established (by the National Research Council of Turkey) research institute--Marmara Research Institute (MRI)--on the outskirts of Istanbul on the Asian side, overlooking the Izmit bay, right across from what used to be an American base (which no longer exists). The Institute provided an excellent research environment with a rich library (no electronic copies at the time!) where I was able to concentrate on research, and work on those curiosity-driven questions. It was one of my most productive periods, with no interruption, in a serene environment. We hear about those novelists who have to camp out in seclusion, in order to be creative and focus on their projects – I liken my initial years at MRI to that. Now while at the Institute, something more wonderful happened—I met my future wife Tangül, also an Electrical Engineer, who was pursuing there a Ph.D. in communications. I am grateful to her for being my partner in life, and for sharing my ideals, and for her sacrifices. We have grown a family over the years, with two daughters, Gözen and Elif, both engineers and married, and three grandchildren, Altan, Koray and Eren.
Now, going back to the timeline, in 1980 came along a wonderful opportunity to move from Istanbul to Illinois; for various reasons (some being political) it was the right time to make the move. Behind the creation of this opportunity was the trio that was responsible for putting Illinois at the top of the academic world in control: Petar Kokotović (who himself is a previous winner of this award), Joe Cruz and Bill Perkins (both of whom have served as presidents of CSS). Coming from a 3-dimensional world to a 2-dimensional one required some adjustment, but a quick one because what we discovered was that the Urbana-Champaign campus was an oasis in the middle of cornfields. We found sincere friendship in the community, wonderful colleagues, an intellectual and culturally rich atmosphere on campus, a stimulating teaching environment at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and an exemplary infectious research environment at the Coordinated Science Laboratory with its top quality graduate students and very supportive staff. I find myself fortunate to have spent the prime years of my academic life in such an environment. It is difficult to believe that we have been at one place for the last 35 years (except for two wonderful year-long sabbaticals in France).
Even though there has been no change of venue for us during those 35 years, a lot has happened (for me) during that time—writing several books, entering new fields and topical areas, starting new collaborations, etc. Over these years, many students, post-docs, and colleagues I had the privilege of collaborating with, have been instrumental in propelling and shaping my research. I thank them all (too many to name here, given the limited time). I thank them for the memorable journeys in exploring the frontiers in control science and technology, and in placing control as a core discipline within a broader and richer landscape of scientific enquiry.
In addition to talking about the personal journey, it has also been traditional in these speeches to share with the younger generation some words of “wisdom”. Following that tradition, here comes my message to relatively new entrants to the field (and I see that there are many of you here in the audience): In spite of the pressure and incentives to think and deliver short-term in response to funding opportunities and promotion concerns, always maintain a balance between short-term and long-term projects, where the latter may not lead to an immediate payoff, but if picked and planned judiciously the payoff down the road could be worth all the effort and the short-term anxiety. Have a balanced portfolio in research, and think of it as an investment for the future, with benefits to be reaped many years down the road.
Before concluding, I want to say again how honored I feel for being recognized with thisprestigious award, and I thank you all for sharing with me this joyous occasion. And with less than two fortnights to go, I wish you all the best for 2015.
16 December 2014, 19:00 hrs
Los Angeles, CA