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Researcher Sakira Hassan encourages companies to dive headfirst into their data

Data Scientist Sakira Hassan believes that when we can harness AI to transform data into knowledge and the means to forecast the future, we are not far away from building a smart world of science fiction.
postdoctorak researcher sakira syeda hassan image: matti ahlgren aalto university
Kuva: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto-yliopisto

Sakira Hassan believes in data. According to Hassan, it will help us make better decisions and the world around us safer, more understandable and more predictable. What we need are ways to communicate with it.

During her master's studies in signal processing, Hassan found the means that also inspired her to embark on a research career: machine learning. This March, Hassan joined the Sensor Informatics and Medical Technology Group at Aalto University as a postdoctoral researcher.

“We, as humans, can learn from data. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are powerful tools for making the learning process easier and faster,” says Hassan. “Face identification and verification, recommendation systems and virtual assistants are common examples of data-driven approaches that make our everyday lives easier and safer.”

Hassan’s research is focused on optimising machine learning algorithms for building intelligent systems, such as autonomous robots and recommendation systems. This becomes particularly important as our everyday environment sees increasingly complex systems that need to interpret versatile and even contradictory data from multiple sensors. For example, autonomous cars must respond to changes in their environment in milliseconds, and medical devices must be able to assess human well-being from a number of different bodily signals.

Bridging the gap between academia and industry

Hassan finds it important to see the results of her work in practical applications and to share the knowledge she has gained in her research. This is why she also recently signed a contract with AI solution and service provider company Silo.AI, where she will work as a consultant on machine learning applications for health technology.

"By collaborating with companies, I get feedback and learn about consumers’ actual needs."

Postdoctoral researcher Sakira Hassan

“If I do research in my own silo, I have no way of knowing what it is truly useful. By collaborating with companies, I get feedback and learn about consumers’ actual needs. Companies are a bridge to reach them.”

In addition to her academic career, Hassan has already gained industrial experience. Prior to her graduate studies at Tampere University, she worked for a few years in software development. During her doctoral dissertation on machine learning in biology applications, she was a data scientist at software company Basware.

“The industry is far behind academic research in the field of artificial intelligence development. In many cases, companies want to see proof of concept of new technologies before adopting them for their own operations. I hope that with my work I can also encourage companies to take advantage of artificial intelligence solutions.”

Hassan says that companies are sitting on a huge amount of data but often cannot yet make the best use of it.

“When companies effectively learn from their data, they can understand their customers’ behaviour and needs better, optimise their operations accordingly and enhance automation and productivity. Today, we talk about personalised ads and personalised medicine, which would not be possible without AI."

Hassan says that networks such as FCAI are salient in facilitating collaboration between companies and researchers and can encourage the industry to adopt AI solutions more widely.

“I’m also happy that courses like Elements of AI help to demystify AI to people with non-technical backgrounds.”

Dreaming of a smart world

What led Hassan to her career in computer and data science was the “usual story” – that is, video games.

"Today, we talk about personalised ads and personalised medicine, which would not be possible without AI."

Postdoctoral researcher Sakira Hassan

“When I first played Prince of Persia on a computer in the early 90s, it affected me so deeply that I thought it was made just for me. I got excited about computers and decided I had to study a field related to them,” Hassan says and laughs.

Born in Bangladesh but raised in Saudi Arabia, Hassan decided to pursue a degree in computer science at the University of Dhaka. “My father always supported me and he showed me the significance of education. I believe that he would be most proud if he could see me today.”

After graduation, she worked for a few years as a software engineer in Bangladesh. Then she met a man, who happened to be doing his doctorate on the other side of the globe.

After the wedding, she packed her bags and arrived in Finland in the middle of a November snowfall.

Hassan first got a research assistant position at Tampere University of Technology, but she also had an interest in continuing her studies there. Most of the application periods had already passed, and the only remaining option was a master's program in signal processing. However, this proved to be just the right choice, and she graduated with distinction.

“When I realised what machine learning can do, I wanted to learn more and more. The idea of using machine learning for data analysis motivated me to pursue doctoral studies.”

Starting a life in a completely new environment, along with studying and working in a foreign language was not altogether easy, but Hassan was confident that working hard for her goals would bear fruit. Now she uses her experience to co-ordinate a Facebook help group to assist fellow Bangladeshi students in pursuing higher education studies in Finland.

While it is no easy feat to find time for video games between work, family life and other duties, the computer fan finds motivation in her work.

“I truly enjoy programming, and I feel happy and rewarded when I can solve a problem with it. However, my greatest motivation is to work with data. I believe that if we can harness the power of AI to transform data into knowledge and forecast our future, we are not far from building a smart world – like in The Jetsons, one of my favourite childhood sci-fi TV series!”

”I truly enjoy programming, and I feel happy and rewarded when I can solve a problem with it.”

Postdoctoral researcher Sakira Hassan
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