It took me some time to convince myself of the meaning of starting a blog. But what follows, is a structural blog that starts with a longish personal collection of technology-psychology -related episodes. After that, having time, I will separately deal with at least the following themes, and hopefully in a more condense form:
Psychology and Technology
Academia and Society
Human touch in Business
It takes time to give these topics content and form; it is now mid October, 2010 and I have returned from Stanford just a month and a half ago. It was perhaps just the visit at the University and Silicon Valley that made me again realize the value of sharing ideas and thinking, especially in their incomplete forms. I’m especially thankful to my colleagues in my research group (POEM), Jukka Häkkinen (now at Aalto University), Jari Takatalo and Jyrki Kaistinen, for maintaining the atmosphere of curiosity, innovation and persistent learning in my immediate world of work in science and technology. But it was Mark Nelson (and some other fascinating colleagues) in the EPIC project (Earth-wide, Peace, Innovation, Collaboration) at Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, during summer 2010, with whom I became seriously convinced of the joy of sharing, trying, and continuous re-thinking. This extends well beyond the Open X ideologies. “Mind like parachute, works better when open” as my late colleague Fergus W. Campbell from Cambridge used to quote an unknown source.
On being personal: What I talk about when I talk about Technology and Psychology?
I know that much of what I will write about will be of little interest to most. But it is also possible that the chords in my text can resonate somewhere, without my knowing why; and of course, everyone has the delicious right to skip over them. So, this is an invitation to myself to see and show old and new things with fresh eyes on the screen. I deal with my professional life, and start with the one related to Technology and Psychology. The order of the words matters here.
I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s intimate book “What I talk about when I talk about running” the title of which he borrowed from Raymond Carver, with the kind permission from his widow, that is, “What we talk about when we talk about love” – which I still have not read. But I feel it decently appropriate here to borrow that inspiring idea to describe my motivation and a way to write about these personally framed topics. As in Murakami’s book, it is possible to take the personal content, observations, and perspective as a grounding base for the analysis. What these offer to see and understand, is a matter of personal vision and wit. In the case of Murakami, there is no doubt about the significance of his intimate observations and what they offer for a creative mind to see. Among all the technological gadgets and hype, it is easily forgotten how accurate and novel personal observations can advance our knowledge and understanding of the world and ourselves better – and faster – than any technological front-line brain recording jungles that gather pyramids of data while leaving the core mysteriously closed.
So, I start my blog with ” What I talk about when I talk about Technology and Psychology” and tell the story of my own observations in my work with human-technology issues. Clearly, most parts of this story have a personal, narrow or just local relevance. For example, my recent experiences and difficulties with my University Faculty of Behavioral Sciences, in trying to convince the Faculty of the importance of stuyding human-technology relationships, suggest a market for a story and even a detective book on these issues. But to make my writing journey even a more demanding challenge to the reader I start it with some historical notes which indeed can be effective killers of any interest .
Windsurfers in California, August 2010, North of Santa Cruz.
Personal, History, and Boring?
History can be boring (except for the book on The History of Experimental Psychology, by Boring; believe me, it’s a fascinating book). Nevertheless, I will share a personal history that links my experiences of psychological knowledge and technological passion. I believe that it is a match made in heaven to try to foresee the future technological applications that are content oriented, human centered, and have a creative, psychological ground. Why such a long story? I work as a professor with POEM (Psychology of Evolving Media and technology) research group at University of Helsinki, Finland. I can be considered as the founder and leader of the group, but we are first of all a team of about 20 people and my extra value relates to the history of my work with technology, brain sciences, human vision and HCI ever since 1970’s. So, today, any time I enter the team meeting in POEM, the average age in the room increases by about 5 years. I work with amazing young people and it is seldom that there is a chance to share this historical view. Often it is not relevant either.
POEM is a reasonably well-established research group in its own fields, we work with ambitious and demanding international partners, and have received some significant local rewards and even valuable international merits. We have not (yet) broken the sound-barrier of science, that is, our citation counts are still modest. Happily they are growing steadily and on a wide from from computer game to image quality to 3D studies. There is a relevant history behind this slow development as well. Because it is never seen as an excuse or as a valid explanation to some of the research outcomes, I will explain it here: I believe I have the longest and at least the most influential period, approximately 15 years at University of Helsinki, as the Head of Department of Psychology, Head of the General Psychology Unit, founder of the Cognitive Science program and so far the only Dean (then in the Faculty of Humanities, with about 8000 students) in the history of the Department of Psychology. This time was a double-bladed sword to me: not everyone liked it and it was nearly a disaster to my research career, and especially to my young team partners who did not have a “father” with a huge publication record of which to benefit. It took nearly 10 years to get effective publication work going. During my management tunnel we did conduct numerous full-size studies that out company partners did not want published – because of their competitive value. Without my young colleagues all this would not have been possible. What is done today at POEM is a result of the intelligent, creative and simply good people. I believe that many senior researchers who have taken management positions share this uncomfortable experience and can, perhaps painfully, agree with the saying of the the heavy-weight professional World Champions of boxing:”They Never Come Back”. Luckily, I could accomplish this come-back, but as far as I know, I’m the only one in my own environment who sees this as a real personal achievement. I believe many share this experience with me.
Coming from Finland (Fin-land) , from the outskirts of Europe, where there are curious local dependencies as anywhere, some accomplishments can have global value and impact as well. This is becoming a new law of the innovation nature and ecology of today. For example, my first project with Nokia took place at a time when Motorola was seen as the future leader on mobile phone markets. The word “global” was not much used then. Due to happy coincidences I had interesting contributions to the UI ideas and concepts for Nokia during that time in 1988. In a later draft on 23. January 1989 for them I described the need to improve the mobile phone UI’s so that they should, for example, “start using icon-oriented user interface instead of the dominating push-button/code orientation”, that “they should minimize the number of push-buttons”, and that they “should design special select/move buttons for controlling the phone functions”. Simple as that, and suddenly these fresh messages from the “far forests” became relevant globally, although it was not immediately visible. I still remember an engineer commenting my ideas by saying “Do you have any idea what it would cost to use such icons on a phone?” Well, I did not and perhaps just that was my creative advantage. Besides, I thought – an I still do – that it is not a matter of costs but a matter of benefits. I believe iPhone and iPad are proving this daily. But companies live their own lives and how things proceeded is another story but it took about 5-6 years until related features were seen on the market – in Nokia’s 2110 model.
This is a good lesson to innovators who feel that they are pushing their ideas with a rope. I still have such experiences, and of course, the only heathy solution is to act and move, preferably laterally. As an example, among many that I have, abut 10 years go I tried to convince some operators to start developing an audio-space -based conferencing system that would let the participants to assign an audio location to all the participants of a phone conference. Impossible, even with explicit designs, “we cannot do that, you need to …”. It is easy to give a management talk about the importance of the users, but it is a professionally very demanding task to see what aspects of the users are such that they should be served well and that investments should be directed to this. It requires specific vision and competence. But the most important asset is to build a design culture where these issues are continuously shared, questioned, and re-freshed.
Today we conduct subjective image quality studies on image processing pipes (circuits, algorithms to improve and tune image quality) for Nokia, who uses these pipes in more that 200 million mobile phone cameras each year. We like to think that we have a weird kind of a “impact on society”, that is such a fashionable demand in the present-day Finnish science policy. Now I think we have partly managed to create what I call a “Knowledge engine” where the company units and we as research partners share some processes and elements of that creative and responsible machine. But it is far from perfect.
A rough schematic of a Knowledge engine, based on my presentation at EUPIDE, Paris, 2008: “Future jobs are creatd where knowledge is created”
Indeed, my best experiences relate to the work with M-real Ltd, with whom we started collaborating n 1998, building completely new thinking about the issues of reader and user experiences. Now I like to characterize this as design and interaction culture that was continuously seeking for new perspectives in order to meet the requirements of realistic situations. It was based on the inspiring, interacting, and friendly team of people and it was also a major fact personally to feel always welcome, even when we faced challenges. They engaged our team early in important issues and it was an energizing – and not the opposite that can easily happen – experience to hear the comments “I think we should be much better and more focussed in this”, “we need new approaches”, “we have to see the big picture” as I could often hear from Henrik Damen and Esa Torniainen, both with M-real then. This kind of an inspiring and energizing culture can be easily forgotten when effective processes get a grip of people.
So what is the substance here, really?
Novel personal perspectives can be inspiring and reveal fresh and informative episodes that explain why we today think, work, and see our work in a specific way we do. POEM has been a truly promising and productive project over many areas, including research on high-quality magazines, advert & package print, digital magazines, and mobile phone camera image quality, 3D displays and movies, collaborative & distributed innovation, and computer games research. These topics are not new, but we have conducted most of the studies in a way that is very rare in these application fields. On the way we have met serious obstacles which is exactly why it is so inspiring to tell the stories behind our thinking. Similar approaches that we have used in subjective quality studies, can be found in high-quality acoustics, food sciences, and also in textile industry. A key issue in our approaches, especially in the visual application areas is that when it comes to high-quality, demanding (actually every-day visual environment) visual material, neither theories of perception, nor any findings now and in the near future of brain sciences have much to offer to understand what goes on in the mind of observer of such material. This might sound odd and surprising, but for example, the better the image quality of still images, the worse even the best computational algorithms for estimating image quality perform. But I’ll take a roundabout approach here, and will return to it later under the topic of “Subjective image quality”.
In writing this I also want to honor and thank my colleagues and name them, from whom I learned so much, whose collaboration I have enjoyed, and who have been skillful and creative in imagining and building innovative ict applications for psychological uses. They and their accomplishments tend to be forgotten in the present science world, in the mad race for publications. I fully share the thinking that is beautifully described in the bestseller book “Shop class as soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work” by Matthew B. Crawford. The famous book by Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, my long-time favorite, is a close cousin to these remarkable ways of seeing things and “doing” the world and its objects. Academia seems to quickly forget these forums of ubiquitous intellegenzia and creative people.
Having so strongly indicated my passion with human-oriented technology and its all creatively inviting contents the following subtitle may came as a surprise.
Human and social scientist, beware of technological development work!
Sadly enough, today it is practically a career suicide for a young scientist in Finland to start investing his or her precious time and competence in building infrastructure – that is, to exercise practical skills – for an academic institution or unit and for the hungry, career-oriented colleagues. In no time will he or she be beaten by the publishing colleagues who have put their time on running the studies on the systems built for them and writing the copy-paste-method papers. Afterwards, on paper it seems that they master the methods as well, when citations are counted. This is increasingly not true. No-one counts the hours and competences. What happens is that the crafts people become obsolete or prey of money for those who make it in their science management career. I almost suffered that destiny. For example, it happened that I was not even mentioned in the acknowledgements of papers for which I did most of the programming work, and had no place in the related author lists. One professor brought bananas – apparently as a reward to me – when I was working hard in tuning his system for experimental use. As far as I know, my name was never mentioned as an author in the papers he published. The embedded rational rule is: do not invest your time in anything that is meant for general use. This may indeed sound like dark age science fiction during the times of Open Source and Open Innovation thinking, but only few enlightened people within the academic management seem to be seriously worried about this. The work of these technically skilled good-doers, however important it is, is quickly forgotten. In Silicon Valley, the situation is special since skillful people there have recognized value and there are extensive markets available. This is a serious strategic challenge for a miniature club like the Academia of Finland. And it is not a question of efficiency and reward models only, it is a matter of creating healthy work places, and the building of new work culture where intellectual property receives a just position and respect that it deserves. I have earlier written about a similar theme in an article (“Infrastructure as a success factor” in Psykologia 3/2005 (in Finnish as it is a local history), a story of how the present (Finnish) science system forgets those that build its houses.
Part of this equation of unfairness is that technology advances fast, and any solution becomes obsolete, sooner than the copy-cat articles of the fashionable research paradigms. Significant citation impacts appear to have time constants of more than about 5-10 years while technology advances with time constants of about 2-4 years. There is no Google Scholar or t(echnology)-index for showing the power and significance of technological contributors. There should be. Despite this, and not really understanding it then, with my colleagues we invested all our passion, time and efforts in developing the research and innovation infrastructure to fellow psychologists, to the department, and even for the net of Psychology Departments in Finland for open use. Psychological insight was the guiding force in innovating technology uses, not only technology. This provided us with the pure and continuous joy of genuinely multi-disciplinary, creative work. I turn to this story.
Intel 8008 as my intellectual turning point
The motivational history of my POEM research group dates back to early and mid-1970’s when I was working with computer environments by building software and electronic interfaces in various laboratory settings. Our first self-made “computer” at Department of General Psychology in 1974, Helsinki, was based on Intel 8008 that my colleague Pekka Lehtiö, a psychologist as well, designed and I started programming it. He introduced the microprocessor to me and after that everything in my electronic and digital design work and thinking changed. We used the 8kb core (ferrite) memory of HP2114 as its test memory and the idea was to build as simple code as possible (to save memory space and to make it fast) for running a (digital) sinusoidal visual stimulus signal-generator that Pekka had built. The system was meant to generate sinusoidal test gratings with variable parameters for measuring the human contrast sensitivity function that Fergus Campbell and John Robson from Cambridge had introduced. Such systems were not commercially available and very few in Finland were actually programming microprocessors then. Otherwise I used the 2114 for running psychophysical method simulations and experiments programmed in Assembly language and Fortran. This might appear as simple and straightforward instrumentation work, but by accomplishing it, meant a tremendous philosophical journey in the world of HCI. This was a constant source of joy for Pekka and me.
Messing with digital circuit wraps
I have specific reasons to remember vividly my first encounter with “8008”. At around 1973-74 I had just finished the design of what I thought was a really clever digital circuitry, using discrete logic circuits. It run the method of constant stimuli by generating randomly distributed visual stimuli, record subject responses, count the results and present them on a seven segment display. To accomplish all this, it used shift registers to create random numbers, had a simple memory structure for storing and counting the responses, and it had accurate and adjustable timing and synchrony. Output was through a fast d/a converter. Anyone who thinks this is a simple matter can try to design this process by using basic logic functions only :). My colleague Seppo Hatakka was a valuable and proficient discussant in building the system that included about 40 discrete logic chips, all more or less nicely hand-wire-wrapped on one board. But when I read the specs of 8008 it was clear as a day that such designs and chip jungles will become obsolete and all that can be easily programmed for a microprocessor. This created a most unusual feeling, a combination of frustration, inspiration and joy at the same time. Of course there were the mainframe computers that served as mental models for what the microprocessors could accomplish. Future computers could now be everywhere. But this model was wrong, and it did not take long for us to realize how everywhere the processors could be. But the word “ubiquitous” did not exist. Neither did the word “user experience”.
This was a delicious lesson of how an ambitious and new technology works on us: if we can live through the frustration of facing change and the imperative to rethink, the door to creative joy will be open for us. After 8008, together with Antti Merisalo, we both built another system based on Z80, 8080 processor. Antti was a rare psychologist with genuine understanding of electronic instrumentation and an inspiring partner in discussing the future of digital technology in human sciences. He introduced operational amplifiers and their numerous uses to me. On the 8080 board I used a self-made direct access memory interface for a/d and d/a to drive and synchronize our visual stimulus displays. I programmed it in hex by writing the symbolic code on self-made programming and compiling slips. This took me one step closer to real-time operating systems and thinking about multiple parallel tasks in resource limited systems. This problem of multiple-tasks and limited cognitive resources has remained a massively underestimated topic in psychology but it still stimulates my thinking. I believe that the reason is that, typically, psychologists do not realize the relevance of real-time systems theory in their own fields. Clifford Nass at Stanford University has studied the multi-tasking behavior and found out that heavy multi-taskers are actually very poor cognitive performers. But even he does not consider seriously the problem of resource- limited, real-time operating system behavior as a model for explaining these phenomena. In cognitive psychology, the talk about operating systems (like working memory) and about interrupts is mostly just talk although the real-time models have been around at least since late 1960’s. I will return to the topic of “Interrupt systems and human performance” in a later text.
An interesting single case study of specific dyslexia was run by the 8080 system and then published in Neuropsychologia (Nyman, Laurinen, Hyvärinen, 1982) . This paper has a really interesting message to the study of reading and vision, but as it easily happens, it has been buried in the masses of single case studies and remained unnoticed. It includes some astonishing findings about the speed of spatial processing in the visual system and a fascinating beginning of a story of “dyslexia” case cured.
Towards psychological interfacing
The interfaces used in our primitive computers were not fancy, but we learned valuable things, because it was necessary to think about their designs and about the nature of the interface in general. This all happened at the time when the words “user experience” and “usability” did not even exist. But Don Norman’s work was well known to us and it was indeed a pleasure to tell him this story personally when I visited him on spring 2010 in his Palo Alto home. Because we used adaptive, psychophysical threshold measurement methods in the vision studies, it was necessary to imagine and create various simple user interfaces for many experimental purposes. Designing and running the experiments in continuously changing experimental contexts was a educational experience of the nature of hci. Even if the ui:s we programmed were really primitive, we learned to think about them. An extra benefit of this work was, that by knowing the best technologies available it became possible to enjoy the psychological imagination of even better technologies and their uses. Combined with well-grounded psychological knowledge this offers valuable insights for the future. No wonder that William James is ever more relevant in the evolving “experiential” trends of technologies and this is becoming ever more important in looking for engaging solutions to computer games and personal devices, especially mobile phones and iPad type of systems.
I believe there is a significant paradigm shift taking place in human and social technologies. We need to understand and design systems that engage our highest-level psychological and social processes. It is no longer relevant that a UI of a device or a system is smooth, fast and error-free or the images do not contain noise and false colors, or that it is possible to update and share personal situation data easily. It is essential to create technologies that dominantly engage those psychological process that are in the center of the lives and minds of people and communities. This means that we have to master the psychological interfaces and social interfaces while the user interface or user experience will remain just a low-level practical necessities. It is not an overstatement to claim that the search for sustainable psychological phenomena has been launched. In our POEM research group we describe this as content-oriented, human-centered, and psychologically grounded approach.
But there still appears to exist a strange repulsory paranoia between engineers and psychologists: psychologically and empirically grounded work can appear as difficult or impossible to apply “in real life and real devices”. On the other hand, psychological models seem to neglect complex real-life phenomena. I strongly believe that empirically grounded work can be extremely inspiring to technological innovators, especially because it can provide sustainable thinking and imagination that is independent of current and floating hypes. Our own work with magazine & packing industry, digital imaging, 3D movies, and gaming appear to support this thinking.
Seeing your own history at Intel Museum
During my trips to Stanford and Palo Alto I have taken the habit to visit the Intel museum (http://www.intel.com/about/companyinfo/museum/index.htm) that is a specific fun since everything I see there – microprocessors and their applications from the beginning of 1970’s – is something that I have seen with my own eyes and even worked with most of the early applications. And analogous to the Intel story, my own interests and work have taken me from digital circuits and microprocessors to strategic brand management (with Brandworxx Ltd, Finland and a book on “Bright Brand”, in Finnish, with two charming and bright authors, Satu Lindroos and Katja Lindroos)”.
Seeing the first processors there still reminds me vividly of the first encounters in reading their specs – even without seeing the processor itself – how it approached me with “I can do it”, -type of inviting and seducing talk that was so easy to accept. Looking at the later processors 386/387 and their applications in the not-so-inviting pc’s, it is clear now that the processors had silenced their talk, they had lost their inherent , natural and inviting brand. This kind of an early brand was most natural, born out of the visible potential of the Intel processors. Perhaps it was this kind of development, with increasing number of competitors, that created the demand for brand work and the “Intel inside”, logo ideas.
There is another curious and inspiring thing to see at the museum: Moore’s law, the publication where it has been presented is shown behind a glass or plastic window. Anyone knowledgeable in fitting functions like straight lines to data should see this. The figure in the publication contains four (!) data points from the years 1962-1965 and a (not a straight) line fitted to them. The “law” is based on this prediction. Here is a serious lesson to take home: when we fit a function to our data points, what really matters is what we think about the function, its underlying phenomena, what it represents, and which phenomena or theory/hypothesis it actually tries to represent. For a creative and knowledgeable mind, it is perfectly fine to do this. But if we do not know what the function represents, if we have no reason to imagine why it should be a specific function, if we just show correlations, then we better stick to the poor limitations of statistics and look at correlations and sums of errors squared.
Intel provides a curious museum-experience for anybody belonging to my age group (I was born in 1947) and even younger and an interest in digital electronics. Someone there is also taking good care of the latest small gadgets that you can buy there, I’ve found something new every time. Strangely enough, two years ago, when I visited there, the first processor displayed was the later 8080, not its predecessor 8008 or even 4004. I wonder why, or did I miss something?
Obstacles in trying to see the future of human technology
Sometimes it is just best to forget the negative experiences, but will take up here some of them. To start with, I believe that rich and imaginatively grounded psychological knowledge is the best way to forecast future technological breakthroughs that concern our everyday life. But the problem is, how to best identify the relevant aspects of psychological knowledge that have this forecasting potential and how to get these ideas through numerous obstacles? Our experiences from the article reviews that we have received to our work with Jukka Häkkinen and Jari Takatalo, have shown that many reviewers, having an apparently engineering science or industry background, can be just blind and reluctant to a thorough empirical and critical psychological knowledge. They enjoy using ready-made, or off-the-hat type of fashionable and inviting concepts, with a thin or non-existent empirical support. Starting anew is not inviting. Strange enough, especially engineers and economists as well seem to become madly inspired whenever brain studies, almost in any form, are included in the studies concerning the human nature and experiences. Brain recording or physiological recording trick seems to work like a Trojan horse that has the appearance of the Medical Imaging Systems. All kinds of ill-defined concepts and ideas can be introduced as long as there are brain images, recordings or mappings available. The psychological content of these stories often just collapses, without anyone really noticing it. (I have written about this for the Innovation Journalism 7 Conference at Stanford, summer 2010, Nyman et al., 2010) . Well, the psychologists have their own limitations, as one of the reviewers some years ago who criticized our research plan on 3D vision by commenting something like “it is very difficult to imagine any application to the work on 3D vision”. Why try to use an empty imagination, since Wheatstone invented the stereoscope for entertainment purposes already in the year 1838. The joy of re-thinking waits for the reviewer if he or she will find a place to see Avatar or the new television models from Sony, Samsung and Arisawa. But a serious question is, where does this kind of blindness come from?
The elegance of shadow boxing
In mid-1970’s it became clear that personal computing will be a major development. The Byte magazine was later good fuel for this thinking and I believe it was the first forum where I read about Bill Gates activities, mainly adds. It did not look great, but it was; it was more miniature IT concepts than real products and solutions, but an imaginative eye could see far. Not everyone did, however. When I gave a talk in 1976 at the National Psychology Association meeting about the future of computers in psychology (my visions about future laboratory control, stimulus generation, experimental manipulation, simulation, computation), the audience simply could not understand at all what I was talking about. It was a long way to the use of human technology and multi-disciplinary activities were rather scarce then. An exception to this ignorant audience was Carl Hagfors from University of Jyväskylä, who was a skillfull designer of skin conductance (GSR) analysis-systems and who also understood the value of computers for signal analysis. Once at around 1976 he invited me to his lab to program and test his transient/sustained model of GSR components. He was a curious character, ahead of his time but was not much appreciated by the colleagues. Indeed, he did have some funny or weird ideas. Like how to implant warning systems in elgs approaching roads or how to program a computer to tell an infinite number and variation of dirty jokes 🙂
I believe he had a patent – or was preparing it – for a 3D tv.
Technologically, it was already quite late – in the 90’s – when I tried to convince the national network of Psychology Departments (Psykonet) to start using a collaboration software platform, Lotus Notes to support its multi-faceted activities. The reception was just like in the meeting in 1970’s: I was supposed to introduce the idea in a telephone conference to a group of Psychonet representatives having their meeting outside Helsinki in another University; I was the Dean of the Faculty, the Head of UH had called a crisis meeting (economy issues), so that I could not attend the Psykonet meeting physically and had to hang on the line in Helsinki. No-one made a connection with me: later on, the explanation was that they did not have a long enough telephone wire (!) to connect my line to the local telephone-audio in the meeting 🙂 It was the worst network problem I have ever encountered and the project was postponed by a year … Nobody seemed worried. I got the system planning and implementation started next year. Then I just got into trouble with what I felt was a serious attitude problem, and after 1 year, I felt that there was not much I could do to that, so I quit leading the network task force. Introducing new technologies is too often more of a social than technological challenge and universities and companies are very similar in this. Of course there are numerous change management strategies to use in this kind of situations, but when there is no shared goal, interest or even curiosity in using the technology, then it is really no use. Spontaneous passion, curiosity, inspiration, and collective support opens a way to fly even to Mars, as Nasa people know.
Channels on Mars: Stars, telescopes and image quality
I worked a short time in the vision lab led by Veijo Virsu and was fascinated about developing the measurement of contrast sensitivities of the human visual system. The technological ground for the project was created by Pekka Lehtiö. I started to work long hours in learning programming and simulation, running the simulations of the threshold algorithms, and programming device drivers and implementing a number of threshold algorithms for psychophysical experiments. Calibration of the display systems, programming the drivers for millisecond control of the displays taught many things about visual stimuli, image technologies, signal mathematics and calibration measures. All the earlier knowledge about optics, astronomy, and telescopes that I had gathered from studying astronomical telescopes with Martti Koskimo, proved both useful and inspiring. Together with the background in amateur astronomy and the passion for computer instrumentation offered me a natural platform to build systems for vision research. As is often the case, cross-disciplinary influences feed creativity.
With Martti Koskimo – with whom we were also the founding members, and among the five first blackbelts of the first karate club, Wadokan in Finland – from 1967 on, we had intensive discussions about image quality of astronomical telescopes. Martti is an admirable professional-like amateur astronomer who has excellent knowledge of optical design and manufacturing of optical components. Different telescopes have different anomalies and there are numerous methods by which optical corrections can be accomplished and evaluated. A natural key topic in our discussions was, how to optimize image quality for different purposes, like seeing faint stars and star clusters, or seeing the details on the surface of the Moon, Mars or Saturn. We realized that diffraction limit (Rayleigh criteria) is a relative measure and that what humans see when looking at the surface of Mars, for example, is much more complicated. In addition, looking and the rills on the surface of the Moon shows how the visual system is not only a set of spatial frequency filters set, but it is also sensitive to subtle discontinuities in image details. Sky and Telescope -magazine was almost spiritual nourishment to read and learn about these topics I still read its Finnish equivalent, the excellent and beautiful “Tähdet ja Avaruus” -magazine that I sometimes like to subscribe to my close friends as well. I wrote three short articles to it in mid 1970’s on the topic of “Physiological optics” in order to offer perceptual psychological insights to the amateur astronomers. Still today, even the best visual system theories are unable to explain the many complex and multi-functional visual processes that every amateur astronomer can experience any night. We also imagined about possibilities to correct atmospheric turbulation and seeing effects, that is now a promising issue in adaptive optics. Spatial frequency analysis came to some help through Tom Cornsweet’s book. But reading Goodman’s book on Fourier optics and Rosenfeld’s book on digital image processing, made it very clear that complex measures and tools are required to characterize the quality of natural/complex optical images – and vision. Later at around 1983, I was lucky, to get to know professor Fergus Campbell who invited me and my colleague Pentti Laurinen to visit him at his Cambridge lab. With John Robson, also from Cambridge, they had introduced the spatial frequency approach to the psychophysical study of human vision. This theoretical and practical framework had predecessors like Otto Schade, but Campbell and Robson and their colleagues gave it a clear formulation and introduced the measurement practices. It was also inspiring to computer scientists, physiologists and ophthalmologists. Fergus was the only real mentor that I have had during my whole science career. I still miss him, and enjoy remembering many of his views and remarks that were able to shine light on the idea of pure science and the idea of pure minds working in science. In the middle of the hasty and performance-oriented citation race, it is a sense-making experience to remember his comment “All we desperately need is a five-minute break in this continuous stupidity.”
Looking back, in POEM we have now returned to these same topics, with a completely different and fresh approach, and by paying respect to what people actually are looking at and what is relevant to them. That has been the basis for our measurement framework that we call “Interpretation Based Qality”, IBQ. We have a greta team of young developers now, and it feels like we are solving the problem that has remained stimulating in my mind ever since these astronomical experiences. It is still somewhat a mystery to me, what the present young generation of image quality researchers sees as the image quality challenges and where do these views originate. Imaging technology has achieved a level that perhaps has created an illusion that it is now simply a technological matter to make best possible images. But subjective image quality is still a mystery. Interestingly, this qualitative challenge of what can be seen through instruments will remain even with the best systems built by man. In fact, even the images from Mars are technologically tuned to offer the information that humans want to see. Machines may record unseen things but humans are curious and imaginative and can be wise in choosing what to look for.