Major AI Prize Named for ISI Alumnus

February 8, 2008

The International Foundation for Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems has just named its Best Student Paper Award after Pragnesh Jay Modi, who spent six years in ISI's Intelligent Systems Division.

Modi died last year aged only 31. The first Modi Award will be given in May in Estoril, Portugal, site of the 2008 AAMAS conference.

Modi studied at ISI under Wei-Min Shen and Milind Tambe from 1997 to 2003, when he received his Ph.D. for his thesis, Distributed Constraint Optimization for Multiagent Systems.

"This is a major award at a major international conference, approved by a board of two dozen senior researchers in the agents field from all over the world — Australia, Italy, Israel, UK, and many more — in addition of course to a large number of researchers from prestigious universities in the US," said Tambe.

"And this is named after one of our own. Jay was a rising star in our field, and his PhD thesis led to a whole new area, opening up for further research," he continued. "The award shows the tremendous impact Jay had in a very very short amount of time."

"It is great that AAMAS named the award after Jay," said Shen. On the news of Modi's death last year, Shen circulated a memorial message at ISI:

"This is indeed very shocking and sad news for all of us. Jay was an excellent student at USC. His PhD research on Distributed Constraint Optimization and his ADOPT algorithm are well received and widely cited in the multi-agent research community. In addition, he was the organizer of our AI-Grad and many of us have directly benefited from his warm and enthusiastic services, either as a fellow student or as a faculty mentor.

"He was the recipient of many honors, including "AI's Ten to Watch" award from IEEE Intelligent Systems Magazine in 2006, a Best Student Paper Nomination at the Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems Conference in 2003. He was an Invited Young Investigator at Darpa/IPTO Cognitive Systems Conference in 2003, and won University Honors at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1997.

"We will all miss Jay very much, not only as a dear friend and student, but also as a young and excellent fellow researcher in AI field.

"It is a tragic loss especially to those who knew him well. During his graduation in 2003, he gave me a framed picture of him and me together with his best wishes. I kept that picture well displayed in my office. Every time I look at his radiant smile in that picture and knowing that he was doing well in his career, I could not stop feeling very proud of him.

"Now, I will treasure that picture even more. I will treasure that I have had a very dear friend, that this friend had so much accomplishments at his young age, and that life itself is the most valuable thing on earth, and that, as scientists in this 21st century, we all have special responsibility for all living things on this beautiful planet and beyond."


At ISI, Modi won a Meritorious Service Award in 2003 for his work with the AI grads, the group of Computer Science Graduate Research Assistants working in the Intelligent Systems Division.

Modi, left, receives Meritorious Service Award from ISI Executive Director Herb Schorr in June, 2003

"Jay planned outings for AI-Grads, created a group web page and e-mail list, coordinated group activities at division retreats, set up research reading groups, and wrote articles about AI-Grads for the division newsletter," Schorr said.

"Jay engaged in these activities on his own time, because he wanted to give ISD graduate students a voice and also bring ISD closer together. He succeeded. As a result of his efforts ISD is a more hospitable place for students, they are better represented in division affairs, and are better informed about activities in ISD and in ISI in general."

After leaving ISI, he went to Drexel University, where he served as an assistant professor of computer science until his untimely death.