My summary of 2019

Few hours left of 2019. Time for the summary. To start with, I thought i would check in on my new years resolutions for 2019. I did not manage to hold all of them, so i still do have something to work on. Here’s a selection:

  1. Keep my house clean – kinda OK. At least the awareness is there now.
  2. At least one internal and one external blog post per month – Fail. I love to do this and always have plenty of things to write about but…
  3. Workout at least twice per week – kinda OK. We got our running routines on weekends back and it feels great. Kudos to Anders Hansen!
  4. Kilos lost -2 (c) Bridget Jones. But i heard that curves are back in fashion.
  5. Read more books. I am a slow reader and never read with my eyes any more. This year I read 12 books, see my book club.

Looking back at my 2019, it feels like an OK year, nothing extraordinary. Here are my highligths:

  1. Became a member of the board of directors of RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden).
  2. Ended up on cover pages of NyTeknik and DI, TV4’s Nyhetsmorgon, UNESCO’s remarkable women in technology, and among top three nominees for Engineer Powerwoman Award at Hannover Messe.
  3. Sold my apartment in Saint Petersburg (with mixed feelings).
  4. Reorganised my team of AI Research at Ericsson for better efficiency.
  5. Became a member of Åsa’s leadership team
  6. My elder son Alexander got into a prestigious boy choir
  7. And I spent a lot of quality time with my family and friends in Sweden, Russia and Spain ❤

My set of new year resolutions for 2020 includes more time with my parents, and more reading, among other things. Happy New Year!

Elena’s Book Club

Inspired by my colleague and friend Didem I’m hereby starting a book club. I can’t keep Didem’s pace of one book per week, but in 2019 so far I have read these books:

  • Scener ur Hjärtat (Malena Ernman)
  • Becoming Michelle Obama (Michelle Obama)
  • Gott om Tid (Bodil Jönsson)
  • Folk med Ångest (Fredrik Backman)
  • Hjärnstark (Anders Hansen)
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (John Carreyrou)
  • Factulness (Hans Rosling)
  • Weapons of Math Destruction (Cathy O’Neil)
  • En Bur av Guld (Camilla Läckberg)
  • Miljardmakarna (Emma Ahlén Pouya)
  • Den extraordinära berättelsen om Jonas Paulssons plötsliga död (Alexander Karim)

I’ll tell you what I thought of these some time.

Tokyo with IVA15

Just a couple of hours left from my visit to Tokyo as part of the Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) Innovation Leadership Program’s (IVA15) delegation. Japan is always interesting, in so many aspects. It’s the country with the longest life length in the world. The country always scoring among the highest in the world in innovation, with its high ranked universities and strong traditions.

It’s been an intensive week with 15+ visits to companies, universities, research institutes and authorities.

General Impressions

Human-centricity has been lifted in every presentation we’ve seen. Perfectionism in craftmanship has always been key component of the Japanese tradition, which is reflected in the quality of Japanese food, hand-made goods, and the precision of manufacturing processes. Respect for each other is another key component, reflected in all human behaviors. A short crash course by our guide from Business Sweden on how to dress, greet and sit, and where not to put the business cards that you receive was valuable. Still, I managed to break the social norms a couple of times by having my legs crossed when sitting.

There are many more jobs than job takers. People work very hard and taking full vacation is considered bad style. There are several ways to improve the situation – guest workers from other countries, encouraging more women to work. Artificial Intelligence is considered to be the game changer and life saver. AI is at the core of Japan’s vision of Society 5.0/5.1. Opposite to how the discussions go in Sweden when people worry about the effects of automation and AI, people is Japan look forward applying AI to automate jobs. “If you lose your job in Sweden you can come and work in Japan”, one of them said. And for the first time I saw that the authorities are looking not only at replacing that low-end, repetitive, dangerous and boring jobs that no one wants to have but also the high-profile jobs such as directors and strategists. Agree completely – when companies are fully digitalized they can just as well use AI as a managing director. As long as it works together with a human board of directors.

Every time AI was mentioned it had a human in the center – “human-centric AI”.

Great concept for many reasons, including the comforting one – “AI is my trusted partner, but I’m in control”. Quite some work still remains to ensure that we humans are in control, which is also something that we researchers like – stay tuned for upcoming papers on that matter.

Picture source:


Toyota is a role model for production system design with its definition of lean production and the Toyota Production System (TPS). We saw it in action and it’s amazing. TPS adheres to a number of principles and the objective function is to minimize “waste”. The definition of waste can vary and a simplified version means time waste. It can include more parameters such as sustainability impacts or material waste. Many productions plants (such as Ericsson and Scania) have implemented their versions of TPS. An immediate thought of an AI researcher: the production plant planning problem can be automated, since it’s very well defined.

Sony Computer Science Lab

A company under Sony’s wings with some 20-30 crazy scientists on a mission to change the world. Can AI win a Nobel prize? Can AI become a Michelin star chef? And researchers’ KPIs didn’t only include papers, patents and industrializations but also impacts in art. One exhibition showed robots developing their own language. For any object they detected they mapped a sound and then could communicate through these sounds with each other. In the end they were chattering in their own “natural language” about the visitors of the exhibition. This is as such not ground-breaking nor directly applicable in industry but very cool and makes AI understandable for those not in the field. It is an illustration of a collaborative learning process, which has a big educational value as well as an artistic component.

Picture source: © Julien Gremaud for Digital Brainstorming


All Sci-Fi lovers were mind-blown. Others too, I believe. A lot can be said about the company and the cool CEO who took us through the history, development and successes. This was truly human-centric. Similar to Steve Jobs, the CEO of Cyberdyne, Prof Yoshiyuki Sankai, once had a dream. He wanted to help people and address the potential problems of the aging population of Japan. He built a system that non-intrusively reads bio-electric intentional signals of a human, amplifies these signals, actuates the robotic part of the solution – a cyborg-like exoskeleton, and closes the loop by sending the signals of performed movement back to the brain. Applications included patients with spinal injuries who learned to control the exoskeleton with their brain and later restore the function of their bodies without using an exoskeleton. The company applies brain research from the Nobel prise winning researchers.

Picture source

In other words, telepathy is now possible. If I can learn to control a robot through brain signals then I can also send binary information to others, using the power of thought only.

#IVA15 at Cyberdyne

Physical Twin

The concept of a digital twin has been around for a while. It is used to describe a digital representation of a physical thing on some abstraction level that continuously maps to the state of the physical thing. Before the introduction of cyber-physical systems this has been called a model.


Digital twins are widely used nowadays when we interact with physical things such as cars or robots. The beauty of the concept is that you can interact with the digital representation mirroring the behaviour of the actual thing you want to control. Controlling hardware involves embedded programming, adaptors and protocols, and these are abstracted away for you. Examples range from an app for your thermostat to a full representation of a manufacturing plant. And telecom radio sites have digital twins as well.

Looking at my 10-year-old son I start wondering how much physical things the new generation craves about. He’s very much into the digital world as many other kids and, unlikely his sister, does not care much about physical stuff. His room is pretty empty and his most important things are his computer and his phone. He’s very quick at spending his monthly allowance on computer games and in-app purchases. His heroes are digital, and physical things are of no interest.


With my background in computer science I do admire the shift towards the digital, and the appreciation of pure-software products, with the willingness to spend money on those. This is a really good trend from the sustainability perspective as well. But empty rooms are really no fun, and I keep buying my 10-year-old nice pillows, pictures and other decorations.

And now it’s time for me to share my business idea with you – up for grabs, first come first served! What if we could bring that digital things that miss the physical side to life through “physical twins”? Similar to Disney et al selling their soft toys looking like Mermaid or Nemo. But a twin for real, acting in real-time and real-life, along with its digital original. And it should not be so big of a step given the 3D-printing techniques, the cost of motors and modems, and the fact that the digital model has already been designed. Wouldn’t you love your favourite character from SIMS walk around in your house? Do you see the scale if we could right-click and order home physical twins of our favourite game characters? Personally, I would immediately invest in a couple of friendly dinosaurs from Lost Eden.

Internet of Empathy and Emotional Attachment

Some years ago my parents got themselves a robotic vacuum cleaner iRobot Roomba. They immediately gave it a name – Vasya. Sometimes Vasya would get stuck, and sometimes he would start sneezing out all the dust he had collected, and they thought it was cute and gladly told stories about Vasya. And studies show that when people turn in their broken robotic vacuum cleaners to a repair shop, the prefer not to have them replaced but rather repaired.

We do get emotionally attached to things. The day we decided to sell our motorcycle was a sad day because of that emotional attachment. All that feelings came up: the excitement of the first decision to buy, picking a model and a color, waiting for the delivery, seeing it for the first time, driving it for the first time. And the decision of selling if was simply because of that guilt that i don’t have enough time to drive it and it deserves a better owner. 

Attachment to intelligent things can be stronger. Our little Nao, for example. He came to us in 2009, worked and traveled with us, learned new things, and, last year, he actually moved out and now he lives with his new family in Gothenburg. And I must say that when I got to see a video of him traveling by train i get this warm feeling that everything is fine with him. 

But what about things that don’t resemble a living creature? We used to kick our misbehaving printers, TV-sets (before the era of flat screens at least) and computers. At least i never got hard feelings when watching the “printer scene” from Office Space over and over again.

    We fell empathy and get emotionally attached to things for different reasons:

    1. Something resembles a living creature (works with toys as well)
    2. Something exhibits an intellect similar to a living creature (in this case the thing does not necessarily need to look like one).
    3. We have memories connected to the things (such as traveling together with your bike)

    A combination of these certainly makes the case stronger. Boston Dynamics, for example, build humanoids and animal-looking robots that not only move in a way living creatures do, but also act with an intellect, and a purpose, such as rescuing people from fire. People find the situation adorable and react as if these were living creatures interacting with each other (see youtube comments).

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    Would people ever like to hurt such intelligent creatures? What feelings do you get when watching the poor things getting abused? This is for sure a necessary evil, such as experiments on rats in medical tests. I have no idea how the coming generations will see such things. I can only hope that there is a shift into treating all things with respect, the similar way you treat a living creature. 

    I’m in Love with T-Shape of You

    Picture source: From T to Pi

    T-shaped person has in in-depth knowledge in one field (vertical bar of T) and a broad knowledge of an application domain (horizontal bar of T). For example, a statistician specialised in political systems. Or, a politician who knows statistics. It is important that the two bars are connected: if you are really good at solving differential equations and know a lot about french porcelain of 17th century you cannot automatically call yourself a T-shaped person. Similarly to T-shape, there is a Pi-shape with one more leg of in-depth knowledge, and an E-shape – you get the point. In general, the more “bars” you have as a person the more interesting you are. In case you choose to be I-shaped, you can still be endlessly interesting for people who are into the same field while running a risk of being seen as a geek by everyone else.

    Fun with Flags

    Personally, I have been working hard on diversifying my professional profile (=adding more bars to my shape) while keeping it all connected. I gladly take opportunities of diving into new areas and shifting my focus from old areas. In the long run this strategy brings me to a shape of a Swiss army knife. There are plenty of “bars” of different shapes and directions, and they are all connected. 

    Companies love multipurpose tools – if they were to close down the corkscrewing department and put more focus on cutting department they would not need to go through a tedious process of firing and hiring people. But multipurpose aspects are not valued when it comes to bringing new people onboard because when a hiring manager is after skill A he’d often rather take a person who only has skill A than a person with skills A, B, C. The latter case is called “overqualified”, when in fact the hiring manager is simply worried that skill A won’t get enough focus. So here comes a free career advice: be clear (with yourself and others) of what skills you are good at and what skills give you most energy, and go for the ones you love. One of my personal favourites would be the corkscrew.

    My digital friends – the more the merrier?

    We have more and more supporters in life. Digital assistants pop up everywhere and now we have MikaSiriAlexaAmeliaLucidaCortana and many more on the market. They help us navigate in web shops, be more productive at work and keep track of our calendars. And as the field is becoming increasingly popular, the number of digital assistants continue to grow and often similar assistants are being created for the same purpose. And for some time I had this uneasy feeling of having too many of those around me, like having too many phones, or too many irons. Why can’t I have one ultimate assistant that can manage everything that concerns me, I thought. But actually I do need several of those. Because I don’t want my personal shopper to give me advices in my career. I would like my lifestyle coach to be a woman, and my personal trainer to be a man, preferably with Russian accent. And for driving instructions I for sure want Ozzy Osborne. Sometimes I want to be treated gently, and sometimes I want to be challenged. And I don’t want to tell them which approach to use on me – they should know it by themselves. And as I am not a talkative person I do not really want to talk to them. They should act on my behalf, schedule meetings, book tables at restaurants, order food for me, plan my routs and give me recommendations. I will require transparency and sometimes I will check how they came to their conclusions. I will do it more often with my new assistants and give my old proven ones more freedom – just like I do with my colleagues at work.

    But humans are full of conflicting objectives. My personal banking assistant may not be happy about the decisions of my holiday planner. And will my work assistant be able to agree with Paul’s work assistant to satisfy the constraints of our kids’ activity planner? This works as long as they all rely on the same multi-parametric system with all the knowledge that’s relevant to me. In other words, all my assistants are in fact one, with many different faces, voices and flavours. And we should not be afraid of hooking in more of them, as long as they are in agreement, and optimizing your life in a systemic way without leading you into local optimum.

    Let’s repeat the phrases we must forget

    Here’s a list of annoying phrases published by Betty Lui – I love it. I do get annoyed by 70% of those. And I do use about 20% of those myself (to be honest). I want to tell you some other annoying phrases that i often hear.

    We were too early

    Sure, it must feel comforting to say this. We failed because we were too smart for the rest of the world. The market was not ready. The supporting technologies were not ready. I suggest different phrasing:

    • We did design mistakes
    • Lack of supporting technologies made our product useless
    • We were not persistent
    • We did not dare to take it the whole way

    I am not shooting down the innovations there but sometimes we need to be more humble about the reasons our great ideas fail.

    How much do you think Elin learned about Communicating Embedded Systems after reading this book?
    We were probably slightly too early…

    It’s a good start

    Yes, i have a tendency of scanning for a negative hidden message in everything. And this one does sound negative to me when it’s given.  Don’t wrap negative messages into something that sounds more positive – put it like this instead:

    • You have not reached that far
    • This is junk
    But maybe it’s too much to ask from Swedes and Americans. Negative feedback is not a strong side of these nationalities in general.
    Source of the pictures: What does “It’s a good start” actually mean

    See it as a good experience

    Sure, experiences are good in general. And when we have to go through something that hurts/annoys/irritates we learn something and come out stronger. But i don’t ever want to hear this phrase from those who actually cause this experience, especially when the outcome it known a-priori.


    Spaghetti of Things

    Spaghetti software was a popular term in the 90s, when I just started to learn programming. When a tool is given to someone who does not plan for dimensioning, scalability and extensibility, the end result becomes a spaghetti. And I did create a couple of spaghetti-projects myself, with all my love to quick-fixes and limited time to hand in assignments at university. Spaghetti code requires shorter starting curve but is not future proof. 
    Similarly, “spaghetti” can easily be created when Internet of Things solutions are put together. A couple of years ago my team at Ericsson Research has created a prototype of a fully automated logistics system that consisted of some 100 sensors and actuators and used a control algorithm that could deal with any number of resources (vehicles, cranes, cargo) and adjusted to new logistics tasks and resource changes in real-time. No spaghetti code here. And a very beautiful demo that we presented at Mobile World Congress’2015. Underneath, however, was a “spaghetti” of cables, simply because not all of our devices were capable of wireless connectivity at that time.
    Another example could be found at our place 5 years ago. I called it “brain of our apartment”. A couple of net disks, wireless router, and even a stationary phone(!). Now we don’t have cables any more, all is wireless and in the cloud, and still, there is a risk of creating virtual spaghetti. Ordinary users of a home kits such as Apple’s or Telldus‘ can now easily automate their homes without any knowledge of the underlying technologies as all the complexity is hidden. The invisible cables will however connect our fridges, tv-boxes, coffee machines and temperature sensors to different servers and when you ask your TV to check how your cigars are doing, your AppleTV will send a request to an iCloud server somewhere in the world to decode what you actually meant by this phrase, get back your request in a machine-readable form, send it to your Apple HomeKit, further to the HomeKit application server, back home, then to Telldus server somewhere in the world, back home to the cigar humidor where the humidity sensor is placed, and all the way back to your TV to deliver the answer to your question. No wonder that responses can take time. And the loger the chain of events the longer the response times. Instead, the involved cloud services could talk between themselves and deliver back an answer, and hopefully they can find a “close” friend to discuss.

    Commodities in Our Life

    We are constantly looking for new values that can be created out of old technologies that become more mature and scalable. Processors are powerful enough to give us search results in seconds, telecom networks become fast enough to transmit huge amounts of information almost instantly, small connected devices are deployed in everything, we expect mobile internet to work everywhere, and we expect all this to be for free, or almost for free. What we gladly pay for is the “Jet Black” shade of the phone, fancy filters in the camera application and Siri with a sense of humor. And we can easily forgive these value-adding services when they misbehave – it’s not a big deal if Siri does not get what you want from her. But when we lose coverage it becomes very annoying. Or if your device suddenly freezes and restarts, especially when you are right in the middle of credit card payment process. Can I trust that my microphone is actually muted after I clicked on mute? Can I trust that my information will stay secure?

    Apple iOS 10 is Apple’s high score in the number of bugs. And here we’re talking about bugs in that basic functionality, such as battery life or sound, that we do not want to pay any extra for. They have already released several updates to it, still failing to fix the sounds problem on iPhone 6S. Isn’t is unacceptable for a phone that costs $600?  There are tons of information on the web about fixes and workarounds for the bugs in iOS 10, and even detailed instructions on how to revert to iOS 9. Some people even turn it to something positive: “Apple are so quick with their bug fixes and updates!” But isn’t it exactly what we paid Apple for from the very beginning – things just worked. 
    If my device tells me that the sound is on when in fact there is no sound, can I trust it’s muted microphone to actually be muted? Does the fancy outfit matter when you stop trusting someone?