The Internet of empathy receives the Helsinki Challenge prize

The €375,000 prize for the science-based idea competition Helsinki Challenge was divided between two teams.

The winner was NEMO – Natural Emotionality in Digital Interaction, which received €250,000, while the runner-up, Biodiversity Now, received €125,000. The prize money is intended for realising the team’s idea.  

Empathy to the Internet

NEMO is developing new ways to digitise and transmit emotion online. The team is planning small add-ons for digital interaction platforms that would consider emotions. This way participants in online discussions could see or even experience the emotions of others in a new way that would be equivalent to natural interaction. The team wants to create an open protocol for emotion transmission for any coder to use for building new empathy-enabling applications.

“We intend to study how playing in a digital environment influences the development of emotional skills in children,” says researcher Katri Saarikivi.  “We want to create an Internet free from bullying.”

According to the international jury of the Helsinki Challenge competition, NEMO’s idea is unique, creative and solution focused.   

In addition to Saarikivi, the team features researchers from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Behavioural Sciences and the University of Jyväskylä as well as experts from YLE, Teosto, the City of Espoo, Kuuasema and Soundage.   

A Finnish habitat bank

Professor Markku Ollikainen’s Biodiversity Now team wants to establish a Finnish habitat bank so that, for example, companies reducing biodiversity through a construction project could offset this by increasing biodiversity elsewhere.

“Companies that buy and produce biodiversity, individual landowners and some of the world's leading biodiversity experts would be involved with the bank,” states Ollikainen. "The banks would be country specific, but they could be established in different areas of the world."

The jury praised Biodiversity Now for the team’s topical idea: solving this global problem would be very significant to biodiversity.  

In addition to Professor Markku Ollikainen from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, the team features researchers from the Finnish Environment Institute and the University of Jyväskylä and has partnered with Rudus.

Close cooperation

The Helsinki Challenge competition was launched a year ago. In October 2014, 114 teams signed up, and a jury selected 20 of them to participate in the semifinal in December. The multidisciplinary teams have been seeking solutions for the world’s grand challenges.

The University wanted to increase cooperation with other institutions. During the competition, the teams have developed their solutions together with representatives from the business sector, the media, alumni, policymakers and several Finnish and international experts. The goal was to together discover the building blocks of wellbeing and the solutions to problems, even on a global scale.

The jury for the final included Chancellor Thomas Wilhelmsson (chair), Pro-Vice Chancellor of Education Sally Mapstone from the University of Oxford, Professor of Practice Pasi Sahlberg from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Director Ulrich Weinberg from the Hasso-Plattner Institute School of Design Thinking and President Mikko Kosonen of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

The University of Helsinki celebrated its 375th anniversary with the competition. The next Helsinki Challenge will be organised on the centennial of Finland's independence, in 2017.

Explore the ideas of the winning teams

Katri Saarikivi presenting the NEMO project to the jury and audience on 12 November. The presentation starts at 1:42:55.  

The pitch video for the NEMO project

Markku Ollikainen presenting the Biodiversity Now project to the jury and audience on 12 November The presentation starts at 54:50.  

The pitch video for the Biodiversity Now project