Timo Honkela
Humanist of the day

Timo Honkela

Professor Timo Honkela has been characterised as a renaissance man. He is an expert in human-centred informatics who wants to answer the fundamental questions of language, society and the mind. He is a philosophical thinker who wants artificial intelligence to serve the humanities, a reflective scholar whose heart beats for art.

Timo Honkela

Born August 4, 1962, Kalajoki

Master of Arts 1989 (computer science), University of Oulu
PhD 1998 (information technology), Helsinki University of Technology

Professor of Research into Digital Materials, University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland, 2014–
Chief Research Scientist 2006–13, Helsinki University of Technology/Aalto University
Acting Professor 2003–05, Helsinki University of Technology
CEO and Director of Research 2000–02, Gurusoft Oy
Professor 1998–2000, Helsinki School of Arts and Design
Researcher 1994–99, Helsinki University of Technology
Researcher 1990–94, Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)
Researcher 1987–89, Sitra
Research Associate and Lecturer 1985–87, University of Oulu

Research themes:
Computational semantics and pragmatics, socio-cognitive modelling, the philosophy of artificial intelligence and its applications in the humanities and social sciences

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Written by Timo Honkela (Kaija Hartikainen, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

An enormous number of academic articles have been written on knowledge, knowing, and understanding in many different fields, from linguistics to psychology. For centuries philosophers have studied the nature of the knowledge we have about the world. After all that has already been said, is it possible to add anything truly new to the conversation? Timo Honkela answers in the affirmative.

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The opportunity to meet profound, sophisticated and empathetic people has been very important to me. These encounters include the analytically precise presentations given by Jaakko Hintikka, the edifying influence of Esa Saarinen, and the many conversations at ihmettelijöiden klubi (‘the wonderers club’) founded by Andrew Chesterman and Kirsti Lonka. Collaboration with Mika Pantzar has greatly added to my understanding of society, economics and communities. Together with Krista Lagus I have been able to develop many socio-cognitive themes.

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2014 and 2015 have been tempestuous, both in the life of professor Honkela and in society in general. One of the world’s most experienced neurosurgeons, Juha Hernesniemi, also a professor at the University of Helsinki, removed a tumour found in the visual cortex of Timo Honkela’s brain in December 2014. The operation went well, and Honkela was able to return to work in autumn 2015.

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The heightened awareness of the limitations of a single human lifespan, brought on by illness, has opened up many new themes and avenues of thought regarding academic research and teaching. Timo Honkela has never championed reliance on measurement, because measurement alone cannot capture the enormous variety found in reality in a manner respectful both to reality itself and the behaviour of people.

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I am hopeful that step by step the world will move towards being a better place, whether in terms of physical or mental health and wellbeing, the environment, interaction between individual people or at a societal level, or, for example, regarding how economies are arranged.

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