Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT was established in 1999 as a joint research institute of Aalto University and the University of Helsinki for basic and applied research in information technology. According to the Regulations of HIIT, its mission is to carry out basic and strategic research in information technology meeting international standards of excellence in the field of information technology. This is achieved through close cooperation with the information industry and with sciences applying information technology. In addition, HIIT provides doctoral education and higher education based on research in cooperation with the departments of the partner universities.

The objective of HIIT is to enhance the quality, visibility and impact of Finnish research on information technology so as to make it meet the highest international standards of excellence, thus facilitating more intensive cooperation between the information industry and universities in Finland and the key international research institutes and universities in this field. HIIT aims to boost the competitiveness of the Finnish information industry and information society in the long term by linking scientific research with the long-term high-risk research and development performed by the information industry and by contributing to the development of the information society.

To reach the ambitious objectives of HIIT and for producing added value to the host universities, HIIT aims to combine top ICT research of the universities into a positive collaborating critical mass that supports an internationally strong joint “Helsinki ICT” brand, so that the capital area will be recognized as one of the leading ICT hubs in Europe. HIIT also works as a collaboration platform that links top ICT research to other sciences, to companies, and to other areas of the society. HIIT is currently led by Professor Petri Myllymäki, who started his 5-year term as the Director of HIIT in August 2015. The vice directors of HIIT were Juho Rousu (Aalto) and Patrik Floreen (UH), who was appointed in this position by the Board of HIIT at the end of 2017.

The main instruments of HIIT are ambitious research programmes that bring together several research groups with different expertise. The research programmes of HIIT

  • are scientifically top-level (the Academy of Finland Centers of Excellence are a good yardstick for the scientific ambition level),
  • have high scientific and societal impact potential,
  • support HIIT’s “Helsinki ICT” mission and objectives,
  • demonstrate clear added value and support the strategies of the host universities,
  • are challenge-oriented/thematic/goal-driven with research objectives shared by the participating research teams,
  • are cross-cutting/interdisciplinary/collaborative so that the overall composition of teams supports the research objectives, and
  • are fixed-term, ensuring dynamicity and renewal of HIIT.

At the beginning of 2017 HIIT maintained four research programmes (AR, COIN, FCHealth, HAIC-R), with their operational period continuing until July 31, 2021, except for the AR programme until the end of 2018. In the Board meeting in March 2017, two new programmes were added to this list: Helsinki Centre for Data Science (HiDATA) and Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), both with an operational period of 1.4.2017-31.3.2022. More information about the research programmes can be found here.

In addition to supporting the research programmes, HIIT is coordinating a lot of activities that support the Helsinki ICT community as a whole: HIIT coordinates the Helsinki Doctoral Education Network in ICT (HICT), organises joint “Helsinki ICT” recruitments on many levels (postdocs/Fellows, Ph.D. students, summer interns), and participates actively in branding, networking and outreaching activities related to ICT (e.g. the Helsinki Distinguished Lecture Series on Future IT and the Helsinki ICT Research News feed). In January 2017, HIIT launched a weekly high-level research seminar in machine learning for all researchers in the Helsinki metropolitan area, with alternating location switching back and forth between Otaniemi and Kumpula. The seminar has been a remarkable success with 30-50 participants regularly. For more details on the seminar programme, see https://www.hiit.fi/mlseminar. Other examples of HIIT-supported activities can be found here.

HIIT has a clear strategic mission that makes its role and operational model different from those of “normal” university departments. In all our activities, we try to keep this mission at focus, and support initiatives that maximize the added value of HIIT’s investments, while avoiding overlap with normal day-to-day operations of the departments. As the basic funding of HIIT, provided by the two host universities, forms only about 10-20% of the total volume of activities in HIIT, HIIT can be regarded as a catalyst that can be used for launching new ambitious, high-impact initiatives that otherwise would not be started, and also for supporting more bottom-up grass-root level initiatives in cases where lack of proper financial or other support forms a hampering bottleneck. HIIT is still constantly evolving, and we are always willing to learn about new ideas and new forms of activities that would clearly be of benefit to the Helsinki ICT community and need our support.

Petri Myllymäki
Director of HIIT