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Watson leader highlights list of eight new IBM Fellows

Big Blue announces its 2011 Fellows, eight winners of the company's "most prestigious technical honor." Among them is David Ferrucci, who led the team that built a supercomputer capable of beating the world's-best "Jeopardy" players.

David Ferrucci, the team leader on the Watson project, was named one of eight 2011 IBM Fellows tonight. Caroline McCarthy/CNET

For months, IBM's "Jeopardy" champion computer Watson has been a major PR win for the company, and tonight, its lead developer was awarded Big Blue's highest technical honor.

At a ceremony in New York, CEO Samuel Palmisano celebrated Watson team leader David Ferrucci and seven other employees as IBM's newest Fellows. The eight new Fellows join a group of just 209 previous winners, among whom have been the creators of technologies such as DRAM, the scanning tunneling microscope, Fortran, and relational databases.

And while the other seven 2011 winners include scientists and innovators who have broken important new ground in a variety of fields, it is no surprise that IBM put forth Ferrucci as the face of the group.

"It's a great honor for me," Ferrucci told CNET in an interview today, "and something that oddly enough, I've been inspired by since high school."

Ferrucci, whose IBM Grand Challenge project, the Watson supercomputer, gained international notoriety in February by beating "Jeopardy" champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a head-to-head match-up, said that he'd found an ad about the IBM Fellows program in one of his father's magazines when he was a teenager and had taped it to his wall. Where most high school-age boys dream of being the hero in the World Series, Ferrucci seems to have been inspired by dreams of incredible technological successes.

According to an IBM release, the other 2011 Fellows included:

• Bob Blainey, who for "more than two decades...has focused on ensuring not only that software can exploit hardware capabilities optimally, but also that hardware designs evolve to support higher-performing software."

• Bradford Brooks, who was recognized for "his sustained achievement and leadership regarding IBM's involvement with complex materials that are used in the electronics and information technology industries."

• Nagui Halim, whose "technical vision and leadership launched the era of stream computing at IBM."

• Steve Hunter, who "is a foremost industry expert in networking technologies and networking computing convergence."

• Stefan Pappe, who leads IBM's Specialty Service Area for Cloud Services in the company's global technology services delivery technology and engineering group.

• Renato Recio, who is seen as a "world renowned technical expert in data center networking server IO, network visualization, and related architectures."

• Wolfgang Roesner, who IBM calls "an expert in verification and [who] has architected the verification tools and methodologies being used across all IBM systems."