Award-winning decision analysis researcher Ahti Salo: In crises, old data does not tell the whole story of the future
The Decision Analysis Society (DAS) of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) has awarded Professor Ahti Salo the 2022 Frank P. Ramsey Medal.
‘It may be that my work as a member of the Covid scientific panel of the Prime Minister Office and as a producer of research reviews also contributed to my selection,’ says Salo.
As a member of the Covid scientific panel during spring 2020, Salo was responsible for resilience, the ability to anticipate, withstand and recover from shocks.
‘These types of crises show that the rearview mirror, or old data, does not tell us everything about the future. In the midst of a major crisis, the world is a different place from the one that the data came from. Model-based analyses can be of great help here, as long as we are humble and understand the extent to which the assumptions of mathematical models correspond to reality,’ says Salo.
Salo's research has developed a portfolio decision analysis that selects many options from a large set of alternatives.
‘For example, a portfolio can be a set of large projects. They can be investment projects that need to be evaluated on various criteria, such as cost, profitability, safety, and use of resources. Decision analysis supports the rational use of these resources.’
Application areas in Salo's work have included the selection of infrastructure for rehabilitation, decisions on the siting of medical helicopters and the development of risk management plans.
In the summer of 2022, the EURO 2022 major conference on operations research was held at Aalto University, attended by almost 2000 researchers from around the world, with several Salo’s former students on the programme committee.
‘We rarely get this main conference in Finland, maybe once in a generation only. It was last time organised here in 1992. I'm glad to have grown up together with the graduate students and to have seen their careers move on nicely.’
A passion for writing has been a driving force in Salo's career.
‘The most important quality of a researcher is independent thinking. A researcher must be able to read between the lines. What is missing from previous research, or under what conditions the results could be different.’
Ahti Salo did his doctoral thesis on decision analysis under the supervision of Professor Emeritus Raimo P. Hämäläinen who is a Ramsey medalist as well. In his dissertation, Salo examined how to produce decision recommendations based on incomplete information about alternatives and their evaluation criteria.
Salo worked at VTT and Nokia in the 1990s. At Nokia, the portfolio decision analysis was about what new features to develop for the mobile phones.
Salo has supervised 26 doctoral theses and 185 Master’s theses. Throughout his career, Salo has strived to produce solid research which is of as high quality as possible.
‘Immediately after my PhD, I spent a couple of years doing research in London and Mannheim under the supervision of international professors. They encouraged me to look beyond the scope of my dissertation. I didn't get stuck in its topics.’
Salo keeps moving anyway. To balance his research, he does endurance running. In the marathon, he has clocked under 2h44min and won the Finnish championships for masters athletes.
The Frank P. Ramsey Medal is the Decision Analysis Society's highest award, given for outstanding contributions to the development of decision analysis theory, methods and applications, education and social impact. The medal has been awarded since 1985 and has been awarded to only four European researchers before Salo.