Kostas Karpouzis is a research director at the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (EPISEY) of NTUA and researches algorithms that make computer systems more adaptable to how people interact with them, using concepts of natural interaction and artificial intelligence. At the same time, he explores how digital games and playmaking can be used in classrooms and free learning to support the teaching of conventional and social skills to adults and children.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
Kostas Karpouzis speaks in a strangely tender way about objects and issues that objectively have no emotion. He tackles every research challenge while helping women in particular to grow in traditionally man-dominated fields. His intelligence, combined with humanity and empathy make him stand out in his field.
Since 1998 he has participated in over twenty research and development projects under European and Greek funding, with prominent examples being the Humaine Network of Excellence, where he worked on categorisation and recognition of emotion, the CALLAS project (Area Leader of emotional computing applications, design award from Intel in the Ultrabook competition), the FP7 TeL Siren project (Technical Manager, the project was voted Best Learning Game in Europe in 2013 by Games and Learning Alliance), and the H2020 iRead project, produced by Navigo, the winner of the 2018 GALA Serious Games competition.
He serves on the board of directors in the gi-Cluster of Corallia, a consortium of industrial and academic bodies of the ecosystem of the creative industry and digital games, as a member of the National Committee of Bioethics and Technoethics, and as President of the Association of Informatics and Communication Engineers of Greece. He has given three speeches at TEDx events (Univ. of Macedonia, Athens, Rhodes), while his TED-Ed video entitled "Can machines read your emotions?" has been translated into 24 languages.
In addition, he participates in voluntary actions to promote the safe use of technology, digital games, and computer science in schools: in Girls Go Coding to attract more girls and women to programming, in the EKOME (National Centre for Audiovisual Media and Communications) on narrative games in education, in the “Smart Classrooms” training program where he supported Samsung and the British Council, and has served as National Ambassador for the pan-European EU Code Week initiative.
In relation to technology, are women lagging behind men? Is that really true or not?
In general, I think that making generalisations like "women are better in A, but less good in B", is very dangerous mainly because we can’t really examine most of these things that are mentioned in such surveys, but also because they don’t mean absolutely anything for any woman or man. What we see in various studies, whether in schools and universities, or in workplace, is that women are particularly interested in subjects covered by the term STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or STEAM, often constituting the majority in such schools, but as we move up the hierarchy of education or workplaces, they become less and less. Especially in Greek Universities, women who teach in technical, technological and scientific schools are few and unfortunately facing significant difficulties in their development.
I think it’s very important to constantly promote female role models in Science and Technology, so that young girls who can read a related article or watch a video on social media can imagine themselves in a position like being a university professor or the director of a laboratory, or an executive of a high-tech company, and not to be influenced by the stereotypes that prevent them. We need to understand that this is not a battle between men and women - we just can’t keep 50% of the population "on the bench", especially when we want to invest in research and technology and we face a lot of vacancies there.
Speaking about your sector, at what level is Greece? Is it just a matter of money, or success?
I think in recent years important steps have been taken towards the cooperation of research organisations with companies that produce technology. Truth is that, as of yet, there is no trust between the two parties, while business investment in R&D is still very low, with exception of the fields related to the production of medicines and chemicals. Unfortunately, Greek companies focus more on ideas and techniques that return the investment very quickly and don’t have the patience with which researchers are used to working - so we see that it is often easier to work with multinational companies operating in Greece than with Greek companies.
What do you think makes a person successful in your field?
Could that be charisma or aptitude?
I generally don’t believe too much in charisma, but I think the aptitude towards something is rather cultivated. Surely luck can play a very important role, for example, in being in a lab with the right people and guiding or doing a research subject when it is still in its infancy. Apart from the formal education, which in Greece is at an extremely high level, I think that the basic characteristics that one should have are patience and perseverance, so that one can continue his effort after the first difficulties, good general knowledge of his field in order to identify the problems that need to be dealt with, and the mood to create new knowledge. Especially the last two, I think they are very important, as to identify in time the problems that concern the society or the research community and suggest a solution that will further strengthen society’s trust in scientists, just like what happened recently with pandemic management and response.