The Midsummer celebrations are over, and the main holiday season is upon us. This is the first time since 2017 that I’m spending the whole summer in Finland, and I have to say it feels pretty sweet so far – they call Ireland the Emerald Isle, but we have plenty of shades of green of our own here, and the weather in June has been mostly gorgeous. Somewhat annoyingly, it looks like we’re due for the return of more traditional Finnish summer weather just as I’m about to start my vacation, but I’ll take it; I certainly prefer it to the sweaty +30°C days I had to endure toward the end of my summer holiday last year. Having access to my bike again has been a great joy, although I do kind of miss taking a commuter train to a random town or village and going exploring like I used to do in Dublin. I have been expanding my territory by trying out new routes and going further afield than before, but it doesn’t quite have the same sense of adventure to it.
I was actually planning to travel to England this July; a band I became a big fan of during my tour of duty in Ireland was going to play a concert in Aylesbury near London and I bought myself a ticket pretty much as soon as they became available. Since I’ve never been to London, I thought I’d spend some time there, and I was also planning to visit Oxford as well as Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, the place where Allied codebreakers (among them one Alan Turing) worked during WW2 – a sort of science and technology-themed pilgrimage, if you will. However, because of the pandemic the event has been postponed until an as yet unspecified date in 2021, and besides I don’t think going gallivanting around the UK would be very favourably looked upon anyway, so it’s just as well that I wasn’t an early bird with my travel arrangements. Better luck next year, I hope!
In Finland the COVID situation seems to be pretty much under control for now, with only a couple dozen people receiving hospital care in the whole country; the figure peaked at just shy of 250 in early April. Life is steadily becoming less restricted, and the nationwide official recommendation to work remotely is being lifted as of the 1st of August. There’s no word yet on how this will affect university policy, but perhaps when July is over, we’ll be going back to the office. Strange thought – working from home really does feel like the new normal already! Of course the pandemic is far from over and there’s no telling when we’re going to be hit by another wave, so better keep that sourdough starter alive for lockdown part two.
The biggest thing I wanted to tick off my to-do list before switching into vacation mode was finishing and submitting the journal paper manuscript that will probably be the last thing I publish on the results of the KDD-CHASER project. With so much else going on, the paper took a while to get into shape for submission, but it’s now in the care of the good people of ACM Transactions on Social Computing, so there’s one thing I (presumably) won’t have to think about until autumn. The notification for my CIKM paper is due on July 17th, but the camera-ready submission deadline is a whole month after that, so if the paper does get accepted, I shouldn’t need to do anything about it while I’m on leave.
Something that was only very recently set in motion but that I’m quite excited about is a new study course on AI ethics that I’ve started developing with a couple of colleagues after one of them suggested it, knowing that I’m interested in the subject and have some research background in it. I’ll admit I’m slightly worried about exactly how much extra work I’m taking upon myself, but I have a lot of ideas already, and it should make a nice merit to put in my academic CV. The main thing to keep in mind is that we teach engineering, not philosophy, so we want to keep the scope of the course relatively narrow and down-to-earth: we’ll leave debating AI rights to the more qualified and stick to issues that are relevant to today’s practitioners. After two weeks and three meetings we have a pretty good tentative plan already and will get back to the task of fleshing it out in August.
On the matter of the Academy of Finland September call I’m still undecided. Should I have another go at the Research Fellow grant? I’m not ruling it out yet, but I’m not going to simply rehash the same basic idea, that much seems clear by now. Last year my proposal in a nutshell was “do what I did in Dublin, scaled up”; that made it relatively easy to write, but in retrospect, and other weaknesses aside, it wasn’t a very novel or ambitious plan from the reviewers’ perspective nor even all that exciting from my own perspective. Of course it still makes sense that I’d build on the results of my MSCA fellowship, but I’ll need to do better than follow it up with more of the same. Currently I only have some fairly vague ideas about what that would mean in terms of writing an actual proposal, but there’s still time to find that inspiration, and I’m pretty sure that the upcoming time off is not going to hurt.