Esko Ukkonen: farewell seminar

The newly retired Professor Emeritus, Esko Ukkonen, of the Department of Computer Science, was celebrated at a seminar called “From Data to Knowledge” on 13 April, 2018, at the Kumpula campus. A Unitube recording of the event can be found in the end of this news item.

From Data to Knowledge

The theme of the farewell seminar was based on the From Data to Knowledge Centre of Excellence that Professor Ukkonen headed in 2002-2007. The centre was started when Ukkonen acted as Academy Professor for the Academy of Finland in 1999-2004, and it continued its work in the Algorithmic Data Analysis Centre of Excellence in 2008-2013.

The head of the Department of Computer Science, Professor Sasu Tarkoma, started the seminar off with an opening address. Chancellor Kaarle Hämeri, Rector Jukka Kola, Vice-Rector Jouko Väänänen, Dean Paula Eerola, and an auditorium full of Ukkonen’s colleagues and friends were present at the seminar. Rector Kola congratulated Ukkonen on his scientific achievements and services as a member of the academic community; among other things, Ukkonen has been the head of the Department of Computer Science, a vice-dean of the Faculty of Science, and also its dean in the latter half of 2017. 

The seminar continued under the guidance of Vice-Dean Hannu Toivonen. Six of Professor Ukkonen’s former students gave their views on the topic of the day. This part of the seminar was started off by President Heikki Mannila of the Academy of Finland. His presentation, “Data ja laskenta, käsitteet ja algoritmit” (data and computation - concepts and algorithms) highlighted how important a role the creation of new concepts has had both in the research of Professor Ukkonen, spanning the formulation of the genome assembly at the beginning of the 1980s up to methods for pattern matching in the 1990s, and as the force behind the centres of excellence. Professor Pekka Orponen of Aalto University continued on the topic with his presentation “Algoritmitutkimus datatieteen kumppanina” (algorithm research as a partner to data science), which focused on the important role of algorithm research in the development of data science. This pivotal role is often forgotten as issues of the statistical analysis of data often takes centre stage when speaking of data science.  Another current topic, artificial intelligence, was the focus of the next speaker at the seminar, Professor Tapio Elomaa from Tampere University of Technology, in his presentation, “Looking back and forth.” The presentation discussed earlier predictions about modern-day phenomena, as well as current predictions about the future. Professor Elomaa presented a vision of society where teaching, and later research, are automated for the most part; soon AI will also replace the professors! Professor Erkki Sutinen of the University of Turku continued on the topic with his presentation “On empathy and Computer Science,” discussing the emotional intelligence or empathy needed to create true artificial intelligence, a feature still lacking completely from automated systems today. Back to Earth, this time crossing the border to our neighbour, Professor Jaak Vilo from the University of Tartu gave his presentation “Kehitysapua naapurikansoille – tietoa datasta” (development aid to neighbouring states – knowledge from data). The presentation described Professor Ukkonen’s important role in promoting the careers of Estonian researchers in the field of bioinformatics. The presentations ended in Chief Data Scientist Ari Rantanen’s (Tieto Data Driven Business) talk “Do you need a PhD to be an industrial data scientist (and ride the AI hype train)?” Doctor Rantanen’s presentation highlighted the importance of education and the various skills developed during the PhD-thesis process. In data science, there is room for the whole scale of educational backgrounds, from Bachelor to Doctor.

The second part of the seminar consisted of Professor Emeritus Esko Ukkonen’s farewell lecture. The lecture contained memories from different phases of his career and many sharp observations on the development of education and research in computer science. The initial sentence he had dug out of an old study guide, “During the past two decades, the automation of white-collar work has become possible thanks to computers.” (here translated from the original Finnish excerpt) reminds us that some things never change. And those algorithms are still not ready.

The seminar ended in a performance by Wiipurilaisen Osakunnan Laulajat.

The event was rounded off by a reception given by Dean Eerola.