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2008 Millennium Technology Laureate Andrew J. Viterbi Feted in Finland

Nikias, Yortsos and Golomb journey with him to Helsinki to be part of events honoring the School's namesake.

June 12, 2008 — Andrew J. Viterbi, legendary pioneer in the field of digital communications and namesake of the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, was honored this week in the Finnish capital as a 2008 Millennium Technology Laureate.
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Andrew J. Viterbi addresses Millennium Technology gathering in Helsinki

Viterbi was one of four laureates named April 8 of this year by the Technology Academy Finland. Dean Yannis C. Yortsos and USC Provost Max Nikias went to Finland with him to attend events paying tribute to the quartet, along with Viterbi's longtime mentor and colleague USC University and Distinguished Professor Solomon Golomb.

University of California Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang introduced the USC Laureate at the main Millennium convocation on June 11 in the Finnish capital.

"Dr. Viterbi represents the digital revoluation," Yang said. "Perhaps the best way to sum up the work of a lifetime is for me to quote Dr. Viterbi himself: 'Making technology work, and making value for others.'” (click here to read Chancellor Yang's complete remarks)

At this ceremony a fellow laureate,  Robert Langer of MIT, was named the winner of the Technology Millennium Prize, which the Academy awards every second year.
The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded for “a technological innovation that significantly improves the quality of human life, today and in the future.”  The prize consists of 1.15 million euros and a crystal-tipped trophy, grown from silicon, which is the foundation of modern electronics. The winner is selected by the Technology Academy Finland, an independent foundation established by Finnish industry in partnership with the Finnish state.  
from left: USC Provost C.L. Max Nikias, Andrew J. Viterbi, Professor Sol Goliomb and Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos

The communications entrepreneur, who is president of Viterbi Group LLC and holds the Presidential Chair in Engineering at the University of Southern California, was named a Laureate for his fundamental contributions to communications technology and for creating “the Viterbi Algorithm, the key building element in modern wireless and digital communications systems, touching the lives of people everywhere.”

"Dr. Andrew Viterbi’s innovation, the Viterbi algorithm, is used to avoid errors in wireless communications systems and digital devices such as mobile phones. The Viterbi algorithm decoder is a component in almost all digital mobile phones, improving the efficiency of phone networks and reducing costs."

“Andrew Viterbi’s inventiveness has always been a powerful catalyst in the life of our school and we are tremendously proud at this moment to hear of his nomination,” said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  “I cannot think of a more appropriate way to honor his creative genius in wireless communications, and the impact his work has made on society, than to have him among the Laureates for an award of this magnitude.”  

As a researcher and professor of electrical engineering, Viterbi worked in information theory and is best known for the algorithm published in the late 1960s that bears his name. It allows rapid and accurate decoding of a multitude of overlapping signals in a digital stream.

Click on the image to view a video about Dr. Viterbi's work produced by the Millennium Foundation
Today the algorithm is embedded in hundreds of millions of cell phones worldwide. Viterbi also pioneered techniques to allow dense populations of cell phones transmitting Viterbi algorithm-coded signals to avoid interfering with each other.

Viterbi and his colleagues developed one such system: Code Division Multiple Access or CDMA, the technology standard for most cell phones in North America. The Viterbi Algorithm is used in most international cell phone systems.

“He is a true pioneer,” said USC Provost C. L. Max Nikias. “The cell phone technology he created touches millions of lives every day.”

Viterbi Algorithm applications extend beyond cell phones to voice recognition programs, digital satellite communications and even DNA analysis. For these and other scientific achievements, Viterbi has been honored with membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is a recipient of the Shannon, Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell awards, three of the top honors in communication technology, as well as other awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and from foundations in Europe. In 2001, he was awarded the "Grande Ufficiale della Republica" by the President of Italy.

Early in his career, Viterbi held academic appointments at UCLA and then UC San Diego. He later was a co-founder of Linkabit, a telecommunications consulting company, in 1967, and a co-founder of cell phone giant Qualcomm in 1985.

Viterbi is a member of the USC Board of Trustees, the Viterbi School's Board of Councilors and holds the Presidential Chair of Engineering in the USC Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering. He is also on the board of the Burnham Institute and the Scripps Cancer Center in La Jolla; a trustee of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley; and a member of the UC President's Council for the National Laboratories.

He and his wife established the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Chair in Communications at USC in 1998.  Appropriately, the chair’s first holder, Professor Solomon Golomb, is an expert in digital and space communications.
Hailed by his peers as a digital genius, Viterbi continues to shape the industry as president of the Viterbi Group, LLC. Headquartered in La Jolla, CA, the company advises and invests in early stage companies, predominantly in wireless communications, network infrastructure and imaging.