Call for Proposals to Support the Helsinki ICT Community

In these calls, we wish to support initiatives that support HIIT’s mission. The next deadlines are 13.4.2020, 7.5.2020 and 8.6.2020.

In these calls, we are looking for proposals related to following activities:

  • events – organization of events
  • collaboration – initiating new university-company, cross-university and/or multi-disciplinary scientific collaboration
  • recruitment of postdocs – inviting potential talented postdoc candidates to visit Finland
  • visit abroad – sponsoring of longer research visits abroad
  • career – boosting the career of highly successful doctoral students

The idea is that in these open calls the target is to support activities with clear added value and high potential impact, in cases where no existing funding instrument is easily available or the available funding is not sufficient.

In case you have an excellent idea that you feel does not fit well to any of the categories below, please send email to Patrik Floréen.

Note that this call is NOT limited to the HIIT research programmes, but OPEN to the whole Helsinki ICT community, defined for this purpose as the HICT network: the main applicant / contact person needs to be listed as a HICT supervisor at Younger researchers or even students are encouraged to apply (when applicable), and listed as co-applicants, as long as their supervisor / the main applicant is a member of HICT. Please make sure that the main applicant is informed, as the main applicant will be the contact person, also responsible for the reporting.

Prepare your application online via Webropol

Call target

The mission of HIIT is to enhance the quality, visibility and impact of research on information technology, and we are looking for initiatives that support this mission. Our longer-term (over one year) commitments are channeled through postdoctoral researcher positions in the strategic HIIT research programmes; in this call we focus on shorter-term funding and support activities that take place during the calendar year of 2020 – these activities may continue even further in the future, but the requested funding needs to be spent by the end of this year (31.12.2020). Activities to be funded may have started earlier, before submitting a funding request. We expect typical funding requests to be between 1.000 and 20.000 euros (with the lower end for example for sponsoring a workshop, and higher end for funding MSc thesis work (e.g., a few person months) on a topic supporting new collaborative research. In exceptional cases, we may consider even larger grants.

Decision criteria

As already stated above, the objective of HIIT is to enhance the quality, visibility and impact of the Helsinki region research on information technology, so successful applications are expected to clearly support one or more of these objectives. In addition, as a joint research institute of Aalto University and University of Helsinki, priority is given to applications initiating or enhancing collaboration between the two universities, supporting common focus areas in ICT and the strategies of both universities, and demonstrating clear added value by supporting activities that might not take place without this support.

There is no restriction on the number of the proposals a professor can submit, but in the funding decisions, we may also consider the overall balance between the various fields of ICT (in Helsinki).

Decision process

The funding decisions are made by the HIIT Steering Group, which has meetings once per month. Applications should be sent at least one week in advance.

Funding categories

EVENTS – Support for organizing of events

  • The target of this funding category is to provide support for organizing workshops, conferences, hackathons, bootcamps, summer schools or other events in Finland or abroad. In the application, please explain who is the targeted audience, how you plan to market your event, and how this event will increase the visibility, impact or quality of Helsinki ICT. In marketing, HIIT expects to be acknowledged for sponsoring the event. The event may take place abroad, for example, as a satellite workshop of a major conference, but the main applicant needs to be a HICT supervisor, and in charge of the organization of the event. HIIT provides typically only partial support (e.g., covering traveling expenses of one or two invited speakers). In addition to financial support, we can also help in acquiring a “university neutral” web site for the event (under, if the event is jointly organized by the two universities, and the organizers do not wish to use the default web templates of Aalto or University of Helsinki. HIIT currently does not maintain its own administrative staff, so the practical arrangements need to be handled by the applicants themselves together with their local service organizations.

COLLABORATION – Support for initiating new university-company, cross-university and/or multi-disciplinary scientific collaboration

  • HIIT is willing to support new research initiatives that involve at least two research groups interested in common potentially high-impact research challenges that require collaboration of several research groups. Such collaboration is often multi-disciplinary and cross-university: strengthening collaboration within a single department is not totally out of the picture, but not our first priority. However, note that the proposals do NOT have to include research groups both from the Aalto and UH CS departments: for example, new collaboration between an Aalto CS professor and another professor at University of Helsinki (not necessarily CS), or perhaps another school in Aalto, makes a good candidate for this funding. Concretely, such an initiative could be, for example, funding for a MSc thesis work supervised by a HICT professor, on a multidisciplinary topic agreed upon with the new potential collaborator (and utilizing their expert knowledge or data).
  • HIIT is also willing to support new research initiatives that involve on the one hand one or several research groups in Aalto University or University of Helsinki and on the other hand one or several companies or public organizations. Please note that it says “university-company” in the headline to be short, but the counterpart can also be public organizations. The objective of these new research initiatives is to explore grounds for further collaboration. Ideally, this would be a seed for planning a new research project, which would seek separate external funding.
  • Visits abroad are generally not supported by this instrument, unless the visit is directly linked to a concrete project proposal: for example, travel funding related to planning of a new EU project proposal is OK (but the purpose of the trip has to be clearly explained in the application).
  • This instrument is meant primarily for initiating new collaboration. Please include in the application a brief description of your plans after the end of the HIIT-funded period.

RECRUITMENT OF POSTDOCS – Support for inviting potential talented postdoc candidates to visit Finland

  • Recruitment of talented postdoctoral researchers is one of the key elements in advancing HIIT’s mission. HIIT coordinates joint postdoc calls twice a year, but in addition to the regular calls, we now launch a new continuous call for inviting especially talented postdoctoral candidates to pay a visit to Helsinki/Espoo. The idea: in case you meet a person you think would be an excellent candidate for a postdoc position, but no suitable call is open at the moment, you can invite such a person for a short site visit, and HIIT can cover the expenses provided that the following requirements are fulfilled:
    • The candidate is truly exceptional, and would strengthen the Helsinki ICT community
    • The candidate is looking for a postdoctoral position
    • The candidate is willing to give a guest lecture both in Otaniemi and in Kumpula
    • The visit program and the candidate’s CV are planned and publicly announced well before the visit
    • The candidate can be interviewed by any member of the Helsinki ICT community
    • If several parties are interested in making an offer, the candidate is informed jointly of all the available possibilities, and the candidate will decide with whom to start negotiations
  • The inviting host is responsible of all the practical arrangements (including arranging meetings with other professors willing to interview the visitor).

VISIT ABROAD – Support for longer research visits abroad

  • Researcher visits to high-profile universities or other organizations can be beneficial for increasing the visibility, impact or quality of Helsinki ICT, but the expenses of such visits are often quite high, and funding is typically divided among several funding organizations. HIIT will not cover all the travel expenses of such visits, but can be one of the sponsoring organizations.

CAREER – Boosting the career of highly successful doctoral students

  • In some cases, the last stage of doctoral studies can be somewhat problematic, as the student may have submitted the thesis already for pre-examination, and would be willing to move on in his/her career, but the funding project may “lock” the student in the old research themes and physically in Finland, while getting experiences of new environments and ideas might be better for the student at this stage of the career (and make his/her CV stronger). Moreover, the incentive to finish the PhD as early as possible is not a very good one, if it just means early termination of the contract of the student. To alleviate these problems, HIIT can provide short-term (1-6 months) “bridge funding” for selected students who have shown excellent progress in their studies, and would like to spend some time before defending the thesis in another organization (typically, a foreign university or research organization). The student may even graduate before or during the HIIT-funded period, in which case the funding provides a possibility for a short “pilot postdoc period” that may help in acquiring the actual postdoc position.
  • The main applicant is the HICT supervisor of the student, and the application clearly needs to explain the details of the planned visits. We only consider students whose track record is excellent and who finish the PhD in less than 4 years. In addition to completing the application, please email the summary of the track record of the student (incl. CV and list of completed courses) to Patrik Floréen. Please also indicate the start date of the doctoral studies and leave of absence periods. Estimate when the doctoral studies will be completed.

Prepare your application online via Webropol

HIIT activities handled outside of this call

The items below are just let you know of recent developments and to remind you of other activities currently supported by HIIT.

MSc student rotation program

HIIT wishes to support cross-university rotation of research-oriented MSc students. The implementation of these activities will be planned together with the new rotation programs that are currently being discussed both in Otaniemi and Kumpula.

Helsinki Distinguished Lecture Series

HIIT is coordinating a high-profile lecture series on Future Information Technologies, see The idea is not to run yet another series of scientific guest lectures, but to attract a more versatile audience and focus on highlighting the research challenges and solutions faced by current and future information technology, as seen by the internationally leading experts in the field. An ideal candidate is an esteemed visionary with an academic background (e.g., the CTO of an IT company, or a university professor with high societal or industrial impact). If you have a suitable candidate in mind, please contact the coordinator of the Lecture Series, Kimmo Kaski. Never initiate discussions with a potential candidate without consulting Giulio first. The final funding decisions will be made by the HIIT steering group.

Joint calls for doctoral student recruitment and evaluation

HIIT organizes through the HICT doctoral education network twice a year a recruitment and evaluation process, with the target to encourage talented students to apply for a doctoral student position in the hosting universities. The reviews produced during the evaluation process can also be used for making decisions about available doctoral student funding. The contact person regarding these activities is Aija Kukkala, email:

Joint calls for recruitment of postdoctoral researchers and research fellows

HIIT coordinates joint recruitment activities postdoctoral positions, regardless of the funding source. The goal is to increase our international visibility though jointly organized marketing and evaluation processes. We aim to organize the calls twice a year.

Contact person: Patrik Floréen

Recent supported activities

Siamese neural networks applied to algorithm selection in recommender systems

The performance of a recommendation algorithm varies in different scenarios, and intuitions about what algorithms are best suited to a given scenario can be elusive even to recommender system experts. Furthermore, choosing a single algorithm that performs well across all the scenarios often reduces the effectiveness of the system in specific scenarios. In the domain of scholarly article recommendation, for example, an online evaluation of 33.5M recommendations delivered across multiple applications was performed and it was found that the best performing algorithm in one application (Document embeddings; Click-through rate (CTR): 0.21%) was the worst performing in another (CTR: 0.02%).

Avleen Malhi, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University, explored Siamese neural networks (SNN) as a potential solution to this problem during her research visit to Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Besides contributing to the research field in general, the objective was to improve the recommendations-as-a-service system for digital libraries Mr. DLib.

A Siamese neural network is an artificial neural network, which is typically used for comparing similar instances in different type sets. Siamese neural network selection aims to identify the group of similar algorithms to use for all the instances in a given situation. It does this by calculating the relative absolute error for all algorithms on a particular instance and then ranking the algorithms based on their performance. Finally, relative performance is calculated compared with the best algorithm, which enables the similar performing algorithms to be identified. The key idea is that if an algorithm is the best for a particular instance, the same algorithm can be used for recommendation with similar instances later. Siamese neural networks were applied to algorithm selection on the MovieLens dataset and on scholarly article recommendation. The aim was to use this approach to select the best algorithm for each data instance, and for each recommendation request received.

Avleen’s main collaborator during her 4-week research visit was Joeran Beel, Assistant Professor in Intelligent Systems at the School of Computer Science of Trinity College. Professor Beel is also affiliated with the ADAPT research centre, which is a dynamic research centre in Dublin with experts producing ground-breaking digital content innovations. The visit paved the way for further collaboration and networking within the field of intelligent systems. The next major step will be the submission of a research article in ACM conference RecSys 2020, which is to be held in September next year.

Foundations of animal-computer interaction explored with monkeys of the Helsinki Zoo

Much like humans, animals have also been using computers for a long time. Historically animals have used computer technology in space, used lexigrams (symbol keyboards) to form language, and dolphins have used underwater keyboards. Drawing parallels to human-computer interaction (HCI) research, which studies how humans use computers, ACI aims to investigate how animals interact with technology and the design of related devices. These technologies are developed to be used with animals in zoos and sanctuaries, working animals, domesticated animals in our homes, and wild animals. In HCI, user-centred design is an established methodology for designing with the users by including them as participants within the design process itself.

As computer systems are becoming more and more widespread, Roosa Piitulainen, Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas and Tapio Takala from Aalto University Computer Science department have recently started looking at how technologies can be used to support the welfare of animals housed in the zoo environment. The work is done in collaboration with the Helsinki Zoo, and applies user-centred design and playful interaction to investigate how we can design computer systems for these animals.

Of particular interest is exploring what it means to have animal-controlled technologies, and how we can support the animals’ autonomy over the technologies that they use. For example, the animals could use the technology for changing their environment or interacting with visitors.

Part of this question, and the starting point for product specifics, is what should the zoo-technology do and how should it be used? To explore what the requirements are in designing and building zoo-technological systems, the team is also researching how requirements should be formed and gathered from the various perspectives of the people who interact with the animals and from the animals themselves. These requirements are then being used for building devices for white-faced sakis in the Amazonian House of the Helsinki Zoo.

For more information and updates, please see

Momentum of the MyData movement continues

The conferences of MyData Global have established their position as the premier events for the rapidly growing community interested in human-centered personal data management. MyData 2019, organised on 25-27 September in Helsinki, brought together 975 participants from 46 countries. The programme was arranged in 9 thematic tracks with “Rebuilding trust – for human-centered data economy” as the overarching theme.

The core idea of MyData is that individuals should be in control of their own data. The MyData approach aims at strengthening digital human rights while opening new opportunities for businesses to develop innovative personal data based services built on mutual trust. More information on the principles and goals advocated by the movement can be found in the MyData Declaration.

The annual conference was organised for the 4th time, and the number and diversity of the participants has been growing steadily. In 2020, there will be 4 conferences on 4 different continents instead of a single global event. Continuous activity is also taking place around the world in MyData Local Hubs and Thematic Groups.

HIIT played a major role in the inception of the MyData movement and is proud of its continuing success. Interesting opportunities for further collaboration may exist especially within the framework of FCAI and HiDATA, both of which recognise privacy and trust as vitally important elements of data intensive research and technology development.

Nordita program on Solar Helicities brought together observers, modelers and theorists

Understanding the Sun to the extent that we can predict how its magnetic field drives space weather and climate is an extremely challenging but important problem for the present-day, increasingly hi-tech, society. Key variables in this process are solar helicities, broadly speaking meaning twist of velocity or magnetic field. Magnetic helicity, for example, can be linked to the eruptibility of active regions. Research on helicities is a combination of observational efforts dealing with massive amounts of data, computational research building models on how the magnetic fields are generated and transformed into helical active regions, and theoretical studies of magnetic helicity and reconnection.

The Solar helicities program was organised in Stockholm, NORDITA, in March 2019. The first week of the month-long program took the form of a kick-off focus event, bringing together nearly 60 participants. The work continued for three weeks more in dedicated working groups, on topics formulated during the focus event. These topics included the role and importance and evolution of helicities in natural systems, observations and measurements of helicities, magnetic dynamos, their connection to helicities, and their modeling, and helicities and space weather.

With HIIT support, computer science and space technology students could participate in this work, providing them a unique opportunity to apply their methods on scientifically and societally significant data sets, and at the same time obtain guidance from the international experts that design and conduct the space missions and those that carry out the modeling tasks.

Automatic dialogue generation demonstrated in an international conference on games

How does natural language generation relate to games? These two concepts that are seemingly far away from each other are surprisingly related. In the 14th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG 2019), two doctoral students of the University of Helsinki, Khalid Alnajjar from computer science and Mika Hämäläinen from language technology, presented their work on creative dialogue generation for the Fallout 4 role-playing game.

Alnajjar’s PhD topic focuses on computational linguistic creativity, where he researches computational methods for interpreting and generating figurative language. Computational creativity is a subfield of artificial intelligence that studies human-like creative tasks from a computational point of view. A vision of computational creativity is to produce systems that support our creativity and help us be more creative.

“In my previous work, I have usually worked with metaphors and short expressions such as slogans and headlines. Conducting and learning about natural language generation research in the field of digital games was not only new and interesting to me but it also enriched my knowledge about how natural language processing and natural language generation methods can be employed extensively in games – from teaching players a language to producing dialogues and analysing games for suggesting desired games, and more – to provide players with a better experience”, Alnajjar explains.

The demonstration of the automatic dialogue generation method caught the interest of many attendees. The generated dialogues were dynamically adapted to the game state, and while they often sparked laughter in the audience, most of the attendees were impressed by the modified version of the game. Usually the approach and the output are the most important aspects to consider in research on natural language processing and natural language generation. It appears that the practicality and agility of the method are as crucial in games.

Foundations of Digital Games is a major international conference that covers a broad range of topics, including artificial intelligence for games, modelling players, virtual reality, and theories on games and designs. In 2019, the conference was organized in San Luis Obispo, California, USA.

Links to the articles:

Thermal cameras hold promise for improved energy management in smart buildings

Improving energy management of buildings is among the most promising application areas of new technology for sustainable living. The Pervasive Data Science Group of the University of Helsinki is experimenting with thermal cameras to gather fine-grained information for use as actionable feedback to heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) devices in shared living spaces. The idea is to develop solutions that go beyond reducing energy usage and can balance between living quality and overall energy consumption.

As a first step in this direction, they have conducted a feasibility study about using thermal imaging to estimate changes in comfort. Climate factors, such as exposure to sunlight, can influence thermal sensation and personal comfort level in a room by affecting the extent of thermal radiation seeping through into the room. To assess whether thermal imaging can indeed capture these factors, an office room shared by four employees and occasional visitors was monitored for three weeks. A Caterpillar CAT S60 phone with an integrated FLIR thermal camera was set up to take thermal images every four minutes, and temperature statistics from the images were compared to data provided by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI). The results were promising, demonstrating how the influence of external climate factors, such as sunlight, can be captured using thermal imaging. In particular, a significant correlation was found between cloud cover statistics and temperature statistics extracted from thermal imaging output.

To understand how thermal imaging measurements correlate with the occupants’ perceptions, as part of the feasibility study the participants were asked to fill in daily surveys about their level of comfort and factors that could influence it. The preferred temperature is a subjective metric that varies from one person to another. Seven-point Likert scales were used for both thermal sensation (“very cold” – “very hot”) and comfort (“highly uncomfortable” – “highly comfortable”). The participants were also asked about the clothes they were wearing, how long they spent in the room, whether any windows or doors were open, and whether there were other events that may have affected their comfort. The results showed that comfort varied across the participants and that different areas of the room were exposed to differing amounts of thermal radiation, motivating the need for solutions that can separately analyze factors affecting thermal comfort of individuals in shared spaces.

Motivated by the promising results of the feasibility study, the team is continuing research into developing methods for assessing thermal comfort using thermal imaging. The primary focus is currently on developing methods for separating people from the thermal images and characterizing thermal radiation for different regions of the space being monitored. The feasibility study was supported by HIIT and the work is continuing through other funding sources.

Collaboration with Novartis in the field of Bayesian modelling

With support from HIIT, Topi Paananen from the Probabilistic Machine Learning (PML) group at Aalto University, recently did a 3-month research visit to the pharmaceutical company Novartis in Switzerland. During the visit, Topi and his collaborators worked on methods for constructing prior distributions in Bayesian analyses on longitudinal data sets. The methods were used with real medical data from a longitudinal study and were implemented with the statistical computation tool Stan. Collaboration with Novartis continues after the research visit with the goal of publishing a joint research article.

Aalto’s Data Management Group develops cross-disciplinary collaboration in computational social science

Marta Kołczyńska was a visiting researcher at the Department of Computer Science of Aalto University from 21 April to 23 June, 2019. Marta is a post-doctoral researcher in sociology at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. During the visit, she collaborated with the group of Aristides Gionis on applying computer science tools to social science data, which crystallized into two problems.

The first deals with the ways of measuring social polarization using survey data measuring political attitudes, such as support for the welfare state or immigration, or trust in state institutions. Social polarization refers to the extent to which groups of individuals are divided and distant from each other with regard to certain characteristics, such as economic status or political attitudes. While increases in social polarization around ideological issues or policy preferences are considered one of the threats facing contemporary democracies, the methods of measuring polarization of attitudes have thus far been rather limited. During the collaboration the team explored the application of clustering techniques and feature selection to cross-national survey data with measures of political attitudes from the European Social Survey, and is continuing to work on devising polarization measures to capture the societal dynamics that European societies undergo.

The second problem deals with the role of status in digital communities. Wikipedia is unique in that it is manifestly meritocratic and status is determined solely by the value of the contribution to the community in the form of improving entries, reacting to vandalism, and upholding community values. The team collected data on promotions to adminship on English language Wikipedia as well as characteristics of the candidate and the voters since the initiation of the process in 2003. These data will be used to analyze the role of different status dimensions in the Request for Adminship process.

Research collaboration with Stockholm University in the field of Human-Computer Interaction

With the aid of HIIT Community Support, Jesse Haapoja, who is part of the Digital Content Communities (DCC) group at Aalto University’s Department of Computer Science, visited the Post-Interaction Computing group (PIC) at the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences at Stockholm University, Sweden. The visit lasted for three months during the spring of 2019. PIC is a multidisciplinary research group that focuses on Human-Computer Interaction. It is led by Professor Barry Brown. The group’s recent research has focused on mobility and mobile technologies, interpersonal and economic encounters, and using speech and gaze as design materials for human-computer interaction.

During his stay, Haapoja worked with HIIT-alumni Dr. Airi Lampinen, who is an Associate Senior Lecturer at the Department and one of the three faculty members in the PIC group. The visit was a part of Haapoja’s doctoral studies and related to the Kone Foundation funded project Algorithmic systems, Power and Interaction for which Lampinen acts as the principal investigator. The project studies how people interact with and resist algorithmic systems and what kind of power these systems have in the society, and how this power should be conceptualized and studied.

In addition to familiarizing himself more with the type of HCI research and methodologies that the PIC group specializes in, Haapoja worked on two specific projects during his stay. First, related to the Algorithmic systems project, Haapoja finalized and submitted to peer-review a manuscript co-authored by Lampinen and Dr. Salla-Maaria Laaksonen from the Centre for Consumer Society Research on gaming automated hate-speech detection. The article studied a project where municipal election candidates’ social media messages were automatically monitored for hate-speech and negative reactions that the project incited. Second, together with Associate Professor Rob Comber from the Royal Institute of Technology KTH and Lampinen, Haapoja worked on a project to envision what human-computer interaction could be beyond the interaction, that is, what might be left unnoticed if research only focuses on those aspects of interaction that are intentional from the user’s or designer’s perspective and how HCI might better account for such issues in both empirical studies and design. This collaboration has also led to an article submitted to peer-review.

Finally, during the visit, Haapoja co-organized the first workshop of the NOS-HS funded series of meetings on Nordic perspectives on Algorithmic systems. This multidisciplinary workshop series brings together researchers from Finland, Sweden, and Denmark to discuss what could be a Nordic way of approaching different kinds of algorithmic systems as they gain constantly more importance in our daily lives.

Collaboration with Stockholm University continues with the still ongoing Algorithmic systems project and the workshop series.

Helsinki Di­gital Hu­man­it­ies Hack­a­thon #DH­H19 | 15.-24.5.2019

Helsinki Digital Humanities Hackathon #DH­H19 gathered students and researchers of humanities, social sciences, and computer science in May at the University of Helsinki. During a week and a half of intensive multi-disciplinary work, the groups applied digital methods to a variety of datasets, with the goal of solving research questions in the following themes:

  • The Many Voices of European Par­lia­ment­ary De­bates
  • Genre and Style in Early Mod­ern Pub­lic­a­tions
  • Brexit in Transna­tional So­cial Me­dia
  • News­pa­pers and Cap­it­al­ism

This year, the event was organized as an international summer school sponsored by CLARIN – European research infrastructure for language resources and technology, and DARIAH – digital infrastructure for arts and humanities, attracting participants from 14 different countries.

“DHH is a concept that we have been developing for more than 5 years. Last year we mixed international students with local University of Helsinki and Aalto students for the first time. We were quite curious how this will work out because not only are we attempting a project course that is truly multidisciplinary but also international. This year we proved that the idea of going international was fruitful. In 2019 we had 4 excellent groups with interesting results. We are also grateful to CLARIN and DARIAH for making this possible. See you next year!”, comments Mikko Tolonen, one of the organizers of the Digital Humanities Hackathon.

Read the blogs of the Hackathon groups:

More information about DHH19, including the groups’ final presentations – video recording, slides, and posters:

HIIT Open 2019 programming contest

The 4th HIIT Open programming contest was organised on 25 May 2019 in Otaniemi. The contest was open to everyone interested in programming and algorithmic challenges, and in addition to the universities in the Helsinki region, there were participants from Finnish high schools and companies, and two teams from Tallinn University of Technology. The youngest team, named “Piltit”, was not even in high school yet. The total number of contestants was 32.

The 14 teams with 1-3 members in each had 13 tasks to solve, and 5 hours of time. In each task they had to write a computer program that solves a given task correctly and efficiently.

The winning team “bigint bugaa”, with Roope Salmi (Olarin Lukio), Olli Järviniemi (Päivölän opisto) and Antti Röyskö (University of Helsinki), solved 11/13 tasks correctly. The team “Game of Nolife”, with Tuukka Korhonen (University of Helsinki), Olli Hirviniemi (University of Helsinki) and Otte Heinävaara (Princeton University), had the same number of correct solutions, but came second because they submitted their solutions later. The 3rd place went to the team “Varokaa J:tä”, with Siiri Kuoppala, Henrik Lievonen and Miska Kananen, all from Aalto University.

For more information on the HIIT Open programming contest, please see – the contest has been organised since 2016 in collaboration between HIIT, Aalto University, and the University of Helsinki.

Application of big data methods in sustainability science discussed in a workshop

Big data and increasing computing power can contribute to more sophisticated monitoring and modeling to address sustainability challenges and enable more informed decision-making. For instance, ecological monitoring towards resource optimisation, environmental risk assessment, and real-time reporting and assessment of environmental quality indicators are domains where big data is increasingly used. At the same time, environmental social scientists are discovering the potential of text data mining to gain insights in framing and narrative aspects of sustainability transitions.

Much of the work is still at an experimental stage, however, and there are no detailed guidelines for applying these methods and understanding their limitations. As part of the spring 2019 Sustainability Science Days, Daria Gritsenko, Polina Rozenshtein, Dalia D’Amato and Karoliina Isoaho organised a workshop titled Big data methods: what is the contribution to Sustainability Science? The idea was to invite scholars and practitioners to inquire and discuss the validity, meaning, policy relevance and governance consequences of big data methods in sustainability science.

The invited guest speaker in the event was Dr. Sanja Šćepanović from the Social Dynamics team of Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge. She talked about two lines of her past and current research that tackle sustainability challenges from different angles. On the one hand, she is interested in individual behavioural change and involved in a project where teams from several EU universities are investigating how to involve and encourage citizens for more efficient energy consumption. On the other hand, increasingly available satellite imagery facilitates understanding of larger scale phenomena and can support sustainable urban development.

The thematic focus of the Sustainability Science Days 2019 was on sustainable production and consumption. During two days this challenge was approached via scientific debate and popular discussion events. The conference was organised jointly by Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) and Aalto Sustainability Hub (ASH).

5G enabled IoT innovations created at IoThon

5G mobile networks are tested and built all around the world and companies are looking for new business areas and service concepts enabled by 5G. IoThon 2019 brought together 110 students and developers from all over Europe for a 48-hour hackathon with challenges set by Ericsson, Nokia, Siemens, Telia and RIOT community. The challenges ranged from novel use cases for 5G light poles to improving the environment of the Otaniemi campus area.

Aalto University and the industrial partners provided platforms that enabled access to the internals of the Otaniemi campus 5G mobile network. The participants could deploy sensors in any location within Otaniemi and implement their own services based on the data from the sensors.

The most popular challenge was set by Nokia: 17 out of 27 teams developed new digital services and business opportunities for smart LuxTurrim5G light poles. The solutions included for example using light poles for charging electric scooters, finding lost pets and warning drivers of a near-by deer.

The COMNET main prize was awarded to team Quadratic that took part in the Telia challenge. They developed an augmented reality coach that gives athletes real-time haptic feedback through actuators.

“The winning team produced a working prototype combining motion capture from mobile phone video feed and haptic feedback through actuators. The demonstrated system made use of the 5G low-latency communications and novel machine learning tools to provide a novel service that would be very beneficial for sports training. Especially, the jury appreciated the level of system integration the team managed to do in the given short time.”, explained the chairman of the jury, professor Riku Jäntti.

”We are happy that we found a solution that uses 5G network and that we got it working during the weekend,” said Perttu Yli-Opas from the Quadratic team. ”We most probably don’t have the time to take our solution any further. If someone with coding skills would like to continue with the solution there is potential to even take it to the market. Telia awarded us with a possibility to demonstrate the solution at ITS Europe Conference 2019 in Helsinki in June. This would bring great visibility for the sports coach!”

Multi-disciplinary research is leading to broader perspectives on socio-technical systems

This year’s ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency took place in Atlanta at the end of January. Jouni Harjumäki, a data science master’s student at the University of Helsinki, participated in the conference with support from HIIT.

Computer science oriented research in this field has, broadly, followed one of two lines. The first, fairness-aware machine learning, is often concerned with datasets encoding socially unacceptable biases (for example, prejudice against a certain group of people reflected as a lower rate of desirable outcomes), definitions and properties of various bias measures, and methods for mitigating these biases in a supervised learning scenario. The other major area of research has focused on making complex machine learning models more transparent and their decisions more explainable.

While topics around these questions were discussed at the conference, now in its second iteration, there was a trend toward more holistic approaches to socio-technical systems. Instead of merely defining a social phenomenon as a mathematical problem, and then optimizing it, several papers encouraged scholars and practitioners to tackle the issue in much deeper terms, trying to come to terms with the complex interplay of the social and technical aspects of the system.

The diversity of the presenters and other participants made this possible – in addition to people with a computer science background, there were a great number of social scientists, philosophers, legal scholars, and others. Also, not everybody was an academic: industry and non-governmental organizations were also represented at the conference. As machine-learning based and other technical systems are being propagated throughout society with ever increasing impact on people’s lives, computer scientists cannot and should not ignore the social questions – or worse, try to solve them by themselves.

Aalto’s Mobile Cloud Computing Group is Collaborating with CMU in Wearable Cognitive Assistance

Cognitive assistance is a promising application area for wearable computing. In the context of mechanical assembly, the user is guided through the step-by-step sequence of a task workflow. The end point of each step (e.g. a particular screw mounted flush into a workpiece) needs to be defined precisely, while being tolerant of alternative paths to reaching that end point (e.g. hand-tightening versus using a screwdriver). Authoring a wearable cognitive assistance application is time-consuming and often requires collaboration between a task expert and a software developer with highly specialized skills in computer vision. Developing a single application typically takes several person-months of effort.

Aalto’s mc2 – Mobile Cloud Computing group is collaborating with Prof. Mahadev Satyanarayanan‘s group at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to create more effective tools. The CMU group has developed Gabriel, an edge computing platform for cognitive assistance, and has experience from several applications built on top of it. The mc2 group has complementary expertise in automatic extraction of workflows from first-person videos.

Truong-An Pham from the mc2 group made a two-month research visit to CMU in Autumn 2018. Among the results of the collaboration is a three-stage toolchain for generating cognitive assistance applications for mechanical assembly:

  1. A workflow is extracted automatically from videos of experts performing a task. Since the extraction process is imperfect, a workflow editing tool is provided for making corrections.
  2. The vision-based object detectors needed for the task are created. Accurately detecting the presence and location of relevant objects in a video frame is the key to recognizing progress on a task. The work is done by a task expert, who creates training data for deep neural networks using a web-based tool.
  3. The extracted workflow and the object detectors are linked to generate task-specific executable code for the task-independent Gabriel platform. Cognitive assistants are represented as finite state machines (FSMs), in which each state represents a working step or an error case. Changes detected in the input video stream trigger state transitions. Libraries are provided to create, persist and debug the FSMs.

The next major step in the project is a user study conducted at Aalto University in May 2019.

Cooperation with The Alan Turing Institute is moving forward

In early March 2019, Aalto University, the University of Helsinki and The Alan Turing Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which expresses the desire of the parties to develop their cooperation further. The Alan Turing Institute is the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence in the UK, known for its high-quality research and teaching. Attempts will be made to facilitate visits of the academic staff to participate in joint teaching, training and research, and to collaborate on joint publications. Interesting opportunities may also exist for joint funding submissions and exchange of data sets and other scientific materials.

The professors Kimmo Kaski (Aalto), Petri Myllymäki (UH) and Mark Girolami (ATI) have been named as the administrative contact persons of the initiative.

Researchers in computer vision and natural language processing are finding common ground

Computer vision and natural language processing are normally thought of as two separate research fields. However, significant merger is happening in some areas, such as image and video captioning and visual question answering. This creates interesting opportunities for collaboration.

The Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing conference (EMNLP) has opened a special track on vision and language. Hamed Rezazadegan Tavakoli, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University, attended the 2018 conference in Brussels. Tavakoli and his collaborators build systems that perceive their environment and describe it using natural language. During the conference, he met with Professor Noah Smith from the University of Washington to discuss the grounds for a mutual project.

Multidisciplinary research project explored possibilities of wearable technology in performing arts

A multidisciplinary research project titled “Digitalising Performance With Wearables and Software” brought together Aalto ARTS, Aalto Science and the University of the Arts Helsinki for fruitful collaboration. The idea was conceived by Dr. Sofia Pantouvaki, a Professor of Costume Design, and Dr. Mario Di Francesco, a Professor of Computer Science. Realising that light was going to be a crucial part of the project, they contacted the Professor of Lighting Design, Dr. Tomi Humalisto from the University of the Arts. This team of three professors from different fields worked out the framework and objectives for the project that would culminate in a technology enhanced art performance.

The artistic content of the project was left open for the students to decide. Three students with diverse backgrounds worked intensely for three months and came up with an interactive performance between a circus artist, costume, lights, space and sounds. Costume design student Tjaša Frumen, computer science research intern Emilio Lopez and lighting design student Mia Jalerva were the core international team, Frumen coming from Slovenia, Lopez from Argentina and Jalerva from Finland.

The group worked on the project in multiple locations around Helsinki and Espoo. The costume of the performer was made at the Costume Design Workshop of Aalto Studios, the software was tested at Motion Lab of Aalto’s computer science department, and the lights were designed and built at VÄS lighting design studio at UniArts. Kallio Stage was the venue for the final performance.

During the course of the work, a number of technical challenges had to be addressed. The costume of the performer, circus artist Aliisa Rinne, contained 16 meters of wire with LED lights, sensors and other technology. These had to be embedded so that she was able to move smoothly and even use the trapeze. The software worked without requiring manual operation during the performance, making the light to either follow the performer or repel her, for example.

The professors were impressed by the results of the work and see great potential in the future of performer-technology interaction. While self-regulating, wearable technology has been used in dance quite a lot already, other performing arts such as theatre, musical theatre and even opera could reach new levels of technology interaction. The project also serves as an inspiring example of multidisciplinary collaboration, in which diverse expertise is utilised and developed further in a creative way.

For more information, please see the write-up of Aalto Studios. A video recording of the final performance is available in YouTube.

Fairness and bias of the COMPAS algorithm compared to human assessments

The Data Mining Group of Aalto University is collaborating with researchers from the Indian Institute of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Turku to explore algorithmic and human fairness and bias in decision making. In particular, they focus on racial bias in the predictions of the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) algorithm, a criminal risk assessment tool used in sentencing in a number of states in the U.S. The project, titled “Algorithms, fairness, and race: Comparing human recidivism risk assessment with the COMPAS algorithm”, was initiated at the Helsinki Summer Institute in Computational Social Science 2018.

The project consists of two parts. In the first part the team explored a wide set of fairness metrics and demonstrated how data preprocessing performed in previous (published) studies affects the fairness assessment of algorithmic recommendations. In the second part they collected their own data to evaluate human fairness and bias, which they then compared with the COMPAS assessment. In doing so, they drew from sociological concepts of in-group bias, social status, and stereotyping to formulate hypotheses about the patterns of associations between the respondent’s race, the race of the evaluated defendant, and the recidivism predictions.

The second part was based on a vignette survey run on TurkPrime. The respondents were presented with short descriptions of defendants and asked to predict recidivism risk. The survey was designed to have a balanced composition of white and black respondents, who were presented with vignettes of white and black defendants. Defendant descriptions came from real data on pre-trial defendants, which makes it possible to compare their COMPAS scores, real recidivism data, and risk assessment by survey respondents.

The first results were presented as a poster at the European Symposium Series on Societal Challenges in Computational Social Science held in Cologne, Germany on December 5th-7th, 2018. Preliminary analyses show that respondents are more lenient towards the offenders of their own race, but the differences are not large. However, if we exclude the defendants with medium-risk COMPAS scores and cases with high disagreement among the respondents (the majority is supported by less than 3/4 of the respondents of the same race), then race does not play a role and prediction rates agree. This suggests that decisions in ambiguous medium-risk cases are most susceptible to bias. Currently the team is working on finalizing the analysis and writing up a paper.

Aalto’s Mobile Cloud Computing group deepens collaboration with IE Business School

In a world where the functionality of products and services is rapidly growing, artificial intelligence (AI) could provide new tools for understanding the structure and dynamics of the ideation challenge in innovation, e.g. where do original and creative ideas come from, and how AI tools could enhance this important part of the often ad hoc and sub optimal innovation process.

With the aim to research these tools, Giancarlo Pastor Figueroa, a Postdoctoral Researcher in the mc2 – Mobile Cloud Computing group, has made three one-week visits to IE Business School, an institution recently ranked 3rd by Financial Times in a comparison of European business schools.

The visits have strengthened Giancarlo’s collaboration with Professor Peter Bryant to combine technical expertise with deep understanding of business. Some current research tasks include:

  • To derive functions to assess the compound functionality of products and services.
  • To design machine learning models to replicate the process of innovation.

In addition, Giancarlo and his collaborators at IE Business School are preparing a Horizon 2020 proposal on automated mobility, and exploring other cooperation opportunities with Aalto University.

Effectiveness of Augmented Reality explored in a user study in Heureka

Professor Yu Xiao’s group at Aalto ELEC has initiated multi-disciplinary research collaboration with professor Atte Oksanen’s group at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Tampere. They have developed an Augmented Reality quiz for the visitors of the Finnish Science Center Heureka. While walking around, the visitors see questions and problems on augmented objects in the exhibition space.

The focus of the user study is to analyze how people perceive the Augmented Reality and how it influences their social behavior. The experiences of 3 different groups of people are compared: those using the augmented reality application, those using a regular mobile application and those doing a quiz on a sheet of paper. Results from over 400 participants have been collected, and the analysis is in progress.

A video about the research is available on the Aalto Mobile Cloud Computing group website.

Animal Computer Interaction Conference: What it Means to be an Animal Participant

In December 2018, researchers in animal science and computer science met for the fifth annual Animal Computer Interaction (ACI) conference, held in Atlanta at Georgia Institute of Technology. Much like humans, animals have also been using computers for a long time. Historically animals have used computer technology in space, used lexigrams (symbol keyboards) to form language, and dolphins have used underwater keyboards.

Drawing parallels to human-computer interaction (HCI) research, which studies how humans use computers, ACI aims to investigate how animals interact with technology and the design of related devices. These technologies are developed to be used with animals in zoos and sanctuaries, working animals, domesticated animals in our homes, and wild animals. In HCI, user-centred design is an established methodology for designing with the user by including them as a participant within the design process itself. However, with animals, it is not so clear what it means to be a ‘participant’. For instance, humans can give feedback and consent to being in research – but how can this be achieved with animals? Being a participant, in some way, within the design processed is important in animal-computing to strive towards better and more informed designs.

Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, from Aalto University’s Computer Science department, along with Charlotte Robinson (Sussex University) and Patricia Pons (Polytechnic University of Valencia) brought this topical issue to attention in the form of a world café workshop titled ‘Designing for Animals: Defining “Participation” in Animal-Computer Interaction’ at the ACI 2018 conference. Ilyena recently attained her PhD in England in dog-computing systems where she looked at methods for allowing dogs to interact with screen devices. Bringing her expert knowledge now to Aalto, she has recently published the first literature review on ACI as well as the first dog-driven screen device.

The workshop was attended by more than twenty ACI researchers and students, animal behaviourists, and practitioners bringing a multidisciplinary group together. Here, questions were raised on participation: on how to support the animal involvement in technology, how to define participation, and the different roles animals could take in technology.

Besides group activities, keynote talks were given to stimulate the conversation by Melody Jackson, head of the ACI lab in Georgia Tech.; Clara Mancini, head of the ACI lab at the Open University, who also founded the field; and Yoram Chisik, from Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences, who related ACI to child-computer interaction.

For more information, please see

Rajapintapäivät brought together researchers of social and computer sciences

Digital and computational social science approaches are raising interest among researchers. Rajapintapäivät gathered more than fifty scholars in Otaniemi in mid-November to discuss their research and issues related to interdisciplinary collaboration.

Rajapinta is a scientific association and researcher community that advocates the social scientific study of ICT and ICT applications to social research. The association aims to improve interdisciplinary collaboration and to provide opportunities for meetings and networking. The association’s second annual event Rajapintapäivät, supported by HIIT, was organized in Otaniemi on November 16-17. Despite its Finnish name, the majority of the event’s content was in English.

The event’s themes were related to many forms of interdisciplinary research involving social sciences and computing: for example, using machine learning for social science research, the design of digital systems, coding education, large-scale data collection from social media, and studies of software and developers.

Rajapintapäivät drew together approximately 50 participants in the main event. The majority were academics from different fields of social science or computer science, along with scholars from humanities and legal studies, and a handful of representatives of the public sector, private sector analytics firms and civil society organizations.

The event’s workshop day on November 16th saw three workshops. One focused on the ethical challenges of research projects involving digital data and digital methods. The second workshop discussed infrastructures for data-intensive social sciences in Finland. The third workshop was a thesis seminar aimed for students working on a Master’s thesis on relates to digital society, social scientific study of ICT, or ICT applications to social research.

The main event was an unconference on November 17th. In an unconference, the content is provided by the participants in a self-organized manner, and the space was open for anyone interested to organize a session. There were altogether 24 sessions in the unconference programme. The day included, in addition to regular academic presentations, several more experimental sessions; for example an open fishbowl panel on studying algorithms and spreading knowledge on good digital privacy practices for researchers. A further example was a peer meeting organized by data scientists working in social-scientific projects, covering issues such as the role data scientists could take in an interdisciplinary project, dealing with the need to know both CS and social sciences, and appropriate publication venues for results emerging from such projects. Such peer meetings were seen as a helpful means of fostering collaboration as projects including researchers with different backgrounds are increasingly common.

The event was free of charge to participants thanks to generous support by HIIT. The event was also supported by Kone Foundation.

Utilizing Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) in Creative Agent Societies

Simo Linkola visited Falmouth, UK for two months to collaborate with Prof. Rob Saunders. The visit was part of Simo’s PhD studies and was organized under the current ICT 2023 project Collaboration Awareness and Creative Self-adaptivity (CACS). The goal of the collaboration is to study how GANs may be utilized in creative multi-agent systems where each agent controls the training of its own GAN. A proof-of-concept system was built to study technological and theoretical aspects of the problem, and the initial results were promising enough to warrant continuing the work after the visit. The collaboration is expected to result in at least one peer reviewed publication.

Computer vision applied to analysis of learning interactions

Professor Yu Xiao’s group in Aalto ELEC received seed funding from HIIT to initiate multi-disciplinary research collaboration with professor Kristiina Kumpulainen’s group at the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Helsinki. The objective is to develop tools for analyzing student-student and student-supervisor interactions on videos captured in classrooms. An approach based on using a deep neural network for pose recognition was presented in the CICERO workshop on digitalization and artificial intelligence.

Foundations of Data Economics explored in a seminar

As the first snow of this winter fell and melted away, Aalto University had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Bruno Carballa Smichowski of Université Paris XIII and Groupe Chronos for a Seminar in Data Economics. The seminar was attended by a dozen of Aalto doctoral and some master’s students, and a few guests from outside of Aalto. For a week from Monday to Friday, we enjoyed every morning Bruno’s elucidative explanations on why data is very different from the other factors of production and how the resulting economy is different. The topics we covered included how data gains its value, data platforms (including platform companies and their business models), the (anti)competitive dynamics in the data economy, and some of the typical and alternative governance models for data. On the final Friday we had an open discussion on how data unions could be provided as a service, and other topics that emerged in the seminar.

The seminar continues now until the end of the year with the students writing essays on select topics. The current plan is then to arrange a small workshop on data economy, with an open CFP, in the March-April time frame. For further information, feel free to contact Prof. Pekka Nikander or Dr. Ruth Kaila.