Ole-Christoffer Granmo was the first boy on his street to own a computer.
Now he wants to establish a Norwegian Centre of Excellence and begin a paradigm shift within emergency management.
You could say that he was a little nerd, good ol’ Professor Ole-Christoffer Granmo (41), when he as a young boy sat by his keyboard in his bedroom in Skien and dreamt about working with artificial intelligence. The year was 1984; The ten year old had just gotten his own computer, a ZX Spectrum with 48-kilobyte memory and a very slow processor. Despite the limitation, he found that there were a lot of exciting things he could do with it.
- With the help of a tape recorder, I made a program for sound analysis. I also built a framework for artificial intelligence. So I actually decided pretty early what I wanted to go after, but it didn’t become serious until I became a student.
- This is quite special, a ten year old boy and maybe the only one on the street with his own computer?
- I had a friend who was three or four years older than me at that time. He was my role model, and very good at programming. But yes, I was probably seen as quite nerdy, because I spent a lot of time in my room reading about programming and programming myself. I was always called the Professor, says Granmo with a small laugh.
So he really didn’t have a choice. He became a Professor at the age of 35 years. Today he is an important part of the ICT community at UiA. Since 2013, he has been the leader of the Centre for Integrated Emergency Management (CIEM).
Granmo took his MS degree and PhD, both in informatics, at the University of Oslo. He finished the latter one in 2004, and two years later he had a permanent position at Agder University College (HiA), the forerunner to the University of Agder. Five years after he finished his PhD, he applied for an advancement to become a professor. At that time he had written so many scientific papers that he had enough for a couple more PhDs, "To be on the safe side," as he puts it. Granmo is known to be thorough in everything he does. "A very hard- working colleague," says Granmo’s department leader, Professor Andreas Prinz, who also praises his cooperation skills and the great contact Granmo has with students and the business sector.
- He’s always working, says his wife, Ellen Rosenberg, telling how her husband sat in the living room with his computer while changing diapers. When the children got older, they hid his computer at times. She is a housewife responsible for the house and children, so that her husband can work more or less 24/7. Without an arrangement like this, he couldn’t have had a family, she says.
- We aren’t very equal, to put it like that. Ole-Christoffer isn’t good at making fish balls! says Rosenberg. But work time doesn’t necessarily mean absence. The family is usually around him. Together, they have had longer stays in Canada and Denmark. The family has their own set-up while dad works, and they are good at taking vacations together, either at their vacation home in Kragerø or a long weekend in a bigger city. Sometimes, the family shows up at Campus Grimstad to have lunch with husband and father. Work and private life go together. But it isn’t associated with stress. He is extremely relaxed in all situations. He usually arrives at the last second, completely unaffected, she says.
They became a couple at an early stage and parents to a son when they were 20. A couple of years later, they got married and had another child, a daughter, and the children are now 20 and 17 years old. After a break, the couple had two more children, nine and seven years old now. So Granmo has had children since his university days and until he became a professor.
The Professor’s oldest children don’t share their father’s fascination with computers. The son is interested in philosophy, and the daughter wants to dance ballet.
- Differences make life richer. Either you do the same as your parents, or you do something completely different. My father was lawyer. You have to create your own thing, thinks Granmo.
- The annual hiking trip with their father is computer free, but the ideas are flowing even there, says Ellen Rosenberg, who must agree that her husband is quite the nerd. When she was giving birth to one of their children, the midwife had to ask him to put away his books.
- We’re going to talk more about CIEM, professor Granmo, and about the application to become a Norwegian Centre of Excellence (SFF), but first; how would you define artificial intelligence?
- We can use it as a tool that is smarter and more efficient than we are.
Artificial intelligence is the ability to think logically and to come to conclusions, interpret. and understand information. It’s to copy human abilities to think, but in a practical sense." Ole-Christoffer Granmo
- What’s the difference between artificial and biological intelligence?
- We can draw a parallel to airplanes and birds. They are based on completely different principles. A human can’t fly like a bird. The airplane is an engineer’s work, and it means that we can create something that is much faster. Just as the airplane isn’t a copy of a bird, the artificial brain isn’t a copy of the human brain. It is certainly a research area to try to create a copy like that, but it is likely that we will come much further by working within the classical computer technology, which is customized for its purpose.
- So you aren’t afraid to come to work one day and find that the computers have taken over?
- It’s a fascinating perspective, and it shows the potential that lies there. Only a few years ago we laughed about a computer that played chess. We meant that the game was too complicated for machines, but today, computers beat humans without problems. It’s superior to us in many areas, but it’s not like it’s a threat today, even though some breakthroughs within the research have moved this perspective closer.
- But we do gradually realize that computer technology has its negative sides?
- Absolutely. It can be misused in many different ways. Most relevant for us might be the capacity to analyse enormous amounts of data. They can be used to monitor and undermine an entire population. It is important to have ethical guidelines as a base when you use this technology. When we do research, we are definitely not blind to misuse. Artificial intelligence, privacy protection, and corporate social responsibility must play together to reach the right goals. For me as a basic researcher, I must focus on researching the possibilities, and then others in the community can regulate the use.
- Do you free yourself from an ethical responsibility?
- Researchers should inform others of dangers and threats they see, but the amount of possibilities for our research is so large that others, like The Norwegian Data Protection Authority, must evaluate its use. In the basic research the ethical perspective won’t be there daily. This isn’t just in my field of study, but in physics, mathematics, and so on. For CIEM, the point is to do something that is good for the community.
- Why did you apply to Agder University College with the possibilities you must have had?
- I was always very intent on pursuing an academic career. The ICT environment in Grimstad, with Ericsson and HiA and a lot of competent researchers, big ambitions and fast development of field of study, called to me. I thought that it would be exciting to be a part of this development, and it has been a very interesting journey.
Granmo’s doctoral thesis was a content analysis of video and computer voices, where artificial intelligence was going to simulate the human ability to focus its attention on a limited area. The machine was going to be programmed to find the important part in a picture, like detecting a person or an action. If someone leaves a suitcase in a departure hall, that can be a hazard sign. The goal was to find solutions that made the computer understand these situations and report them.
This program has not been used, but that isn’t because Granmo isn’t thinking commercially. He does that all the time.
- Already in the beginning I started doing research for businesses. I was lucky enough to be taken on by Telenor when I was working with my dissertation, and there I was allowed to try out ideas based on my research. Among other things, I worked with on one of the first firewalls based on artificial intelligence. Telenor needed a system that went through the firewall logs to catch and understand irregularities. A colleague in Telenor and I developed a commercial product based on artificial intelligence for data traffic surveillance. We established a company and were on the IT wave, travelling around with Power Point, presenting our idea. We earned NOK 7 million. Those were different times! When the IT bubble burst around 2001, it was impossible to finance the project further, says Granmo.
Granmo has been connected to a couple of local IT companies in Grimstad, but now he has his own company, Anzyz Technologies. The business idea is based on a program that can analyse large amounts of data, for example from social media.
The "serial entrepreneur", Svein Olaf Olsen, is the general manager and he takes care of lobbying and PR. Granmo says he is dependent on a "colourful character" like Olsen to be successful. Anzyz received Sparebanken Sør and Digin’s innovation prize this year, and has signed a big contract with Telenor.
- Could you, without any fuss, commercialise knowledge you have gained as a UiA researcher?
- There are several models for a cooperation like this. In this case, my company has gotten the rights to commercialise the idea. I have received great support from the university, which has treated the case as any other case. Dean Frank Reichert (UiA’s new rector) has been very encouraging, says Granmo. This means that UiA has given away possible income, while Granmo believes his own bank account will grow plenty.
Ole-Christoffer is knowledgeable, ambitious, goal oriented and hardworking. He is very solid when it comes to artificial intelligence, big data and use of this." Jose J. Cabeza Gonzalez, colleague
- I actually came here to talk about CIEM, but I got completely distracted. How did you join that?
- When I was finished with my PhD, I wanted a career with basic research on artificial intelligence and a research group around it. Emergency management was unknown to me. My area was surveillance and safety. My colleague, Jose J. Cabeza Gonzalez was the CIEM leader at that time. He was the one who brought me into the research at the centre. Then I saw the great potential for artificial intelligence. For a long time I had worked with theoretical research. Now I got the chance to use my research on an exciting priority area.
- Professor Gonzalez, as CIEM leader, what made you go after Granmo?
- Ole-Christoffer is knowledgeable, ambitious, goal oriented and hardworking. He is very solid when it comes to artificial intelligence, big data and use of this on different areas, like emergency and disaster management. And he shows a wide interest in other people’s efforts and fields of study, says Gonzales.
Now, Gonzales and UiA hope that professor Granmo can make CIEM a SFF. On the Research Council of Norway’s website, it’s written that “the SFF scheme is gives Norway’s foremost scientific circles the opportunity to organise their activities in centres that seek to achieve ambitious scientific objectives through collaboration and long-term basic funding.” No small ambition.
- It’s a very big ambition. But we know that we have unique competence. The team consists of excellent researchers who have done much in their fields of study, and we see that if we combine these fields, there is great potential. Emergency Management is so difficult that it can’t be resolved within on field of study. My goal as CIEM leader is to build and arena and an infrastructure that can realise the vision. This is thorough work where we have to take one step at a time, says Ole-Christoffer Granmo.
He lets out a deep sigh when it comes to the proposed governmental budget. Mechatronics Innovation Lab (MIL) didn’t get enough resources needed to finish the project. For CIEM, this is bad news. The lab is a part of CIEM’s vision of creating a paradigm shift within emergency management.
This means that CIEM will be a leading centre internationally, at the same time as it will be tied to both national needs and emergency participants in the region.
- What does it mean if you become a Norwegian Centre of Excellence?
- It means that we can establish a broader research arena, an arena that will be exceptional internationally. As a SFF, we will receive around NOK 10-12 million during a period of ten years, in total 100-120 million. This way we can realise our research ambitions. Still, the application writing is a way of building up CIEM. We get to sharpen and clarify our goal for up to ten years ahead. It makes us able to reach to much further, says Granmo.
CIEM submits the first application in the middle of November. A panel of generalists will evaluate it. Applicants who come through this first round will have to submit an expanded application in the spring. Those who succeed through the tough competition will receive the highest research status in Norway. At this time, CIEM has two EU-financed projects, and they are constantly applying for more financing. One of them is about a NOK 90 million project with 17 partners. The competition is tough here as well, but it is important for CIEM as a research centre to join.
Because the centre’s research is meant to have a practical usage, Granmo and his colleagues have been to several local rehearsals with the fire department, health department and police department. He has also talked to the Director General of public roads about his visions on how to manage tunnel fires.
- Whether it’s in Norway or in other countries, the same things happen in a tunnel fire. My goal is that when there is an emergency, the response will start instantly and give those involved notice of what they are to do immediately. This includes those who are helping and those who are harmed. Today, people do a lot of stupid things because they don’t know how to react. How can we solve this? asks Granmo.
The emergency situation is very complex today. It takes too long before people know what needs to be done. We saw at Utøya how chaotic and confusing the situation was." Ole-Christoffer Granmo
- This can be done by combining artificial intelligence in powerful computers with smart phones and create an interaction between them and humans, he answers himself.
- When it starts to burn, there will be sensors in the cars, in the tunnel maybe, apps on smartphones catching the temperature, sounds and movements. This way you can get signals that something is about to go wrong. The artificial intelligence is ready to interpret what’s happening and give the emergency operators good information. Today, people make mistakes because they don’t know what is happening at the emergency area. We will give comforting information to those who are there: Stay in the car, roll down the window, or leave the tunnel in this or this direction, etc. Information like this can arrive immediately if the artificial intelligence has understood the picture and can give advice itself or via the emergency team. We have great opportunities to do something important for the community.
- As the leader, do you have less time for your research?
- Now it is important for me to think about how CIEM can get stronger as a centre, and how all those involved can contribute. I believe in giving researchers freedom to evolve, but we have to create an arena where everyone see and move towards the same vision. As a leader, I have to think about the entire arena. This means that my own basic research comes on second place in this phase. In return, I can be a part of realising a bigger project, says the professor.
- He manages what he sets out to manage. And he still has big dreams. He knows he’s doing something that is useful in the future, says wife Ellen Rosenberg.
This sounds promising for the SFF application! What do we have nerds for?