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Timo Honkela: From Brain Tumour to Peace Machine.

CC BY-SA 4.0, by Wikipedia user Soppakanuuna

This is not a billion dollar idea. This is a hundred billion dollar idea.

Timo Honkela is a computer scientist, cognitive scientist, artificial intelligence researcher and a machine-learner. Three years ago he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He underwent a dramatic treatment in the course of which half of his visual cortex was removed — in particular. Fortuntely, he remained totally sane; in his own words, only some “vocabulary got cut out”. But the danger of the tumour re-activating in any part of his brain remains hanging in the air.

What do you do in a situation where you hear death breathing behind your shoulder? Some get smashed down and depressed. But not Timo. He thought: “If I am going to die soon, what can I do with all the knowledge and expertise that I have gained so far in my life?”

Having the strongest expertise in the field of automatic language processing, he decided to  exploit it — and eventually other machine learning techniques — to make communication between people more peaceful. Sounds ambitious? Yes it does. We all understand words a little differently and while you may write a short e-mail just because you don’t have time to write a long one, the recepient might interpret it as laconic and unfriendly. Question is: with the enormous amount of data that we have today (and Google and Facebook have of our chats and e-mails), what would it take to write a machine learning algorithm which will put up a small warning sign next to your Compose-window whenever it thinks that there is a risk of unintended negativity-induction? This of course can be extended to devices measuring heart-rate variability, voice recognition systems and so on and so forth to help people from anticipating arguments with their spouse to softening political conflict situations.

This is a controversial and curious idea which according to Timo is not a billion dollar idea, but a hundred billion dollar idea…. To learn more, read Timo Honkela’s new book  (now only in Finnish, English version is coming), follow him on Twitter at @THonkela and listen to this podcast episode which was recorded this August:

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How to aim for the top and other secrets for success in science: an interview with Professor Emeritus Erkki Oja


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Download mp3 from here.

In this episode I have the honour of introducing you to one of the giants of unsupervised machine learning and more generally of mathematics applied to statistical algorithms, Professor Emeritus Erkki Oja. I met Erkki met an artificial intelligence meetup in Helsinki Read more

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How Does Music Influence Brain? Interview with Cognitive Scientist of Music Perception Mari Tervaniemi

Mari and I in Minerva Building

Does playing music to a not-yet-born child in the womb have a positive effect on the brain’s development? Yes, says Mari Tervaniemi, a brain research scientist who was one of the pioneers in the cognitive science of music perception when the field started in the 1980’s. She is still working in that area. On the other hand music can also help to treat dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The  youngest (born) participants in a Mari Tervaniemi’s experiment was 2 days old and the oldest were in their 90’s.

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Currently Mari is working projects which you can find here: Read more

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Understanding Abstract Thinking: An Interview with Rafael Núñez

Rafael & Vadim in Chile

Rafael & Vadim in Chile

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View on YouTube

View on YouTube

 In 2009 I ordered the book “Where Mathematics Comes From: How The Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being.

This was my first encounter with Rafael — in the form of reading this book by him and Lakoff. The book was also my first encounter with cognitive science of mathematics which has now become one of my main scientific interests. In particular I learned about number subitizing which is the ability of very young children (in some experiments as young as two days after birth) which is shared by most mammals to distinguish small quantities from each other: two spots from three spots or even two sounds from three spots making the numerocity really the essential factor. I was fascinated by the science of mathematical cognition.

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