ESA Space Challenge at Junction hackathon: winner team

At Junction hackathon 2017, one of the challenges was given by the European Space Agency (ESA): building Space Data Enriched Applications using the Copernicus APIs with open remote sensing datasets.

Together with Jelena Pantović, Polina Rozenshtein, and Roman Kotelnikov, we developed the idea that we named re(n)laks (a combination of two words in Norwegian meaning salmon and pure).

We won the challenge and received a voucher from ESA for the business development consultations and coaching. Let’s see what we do next 🙂


To the Moon and back

Exactly one year ago, last summer, I was lucky to meet in person one of the people of whom, while being a kid, I read with such an awe and sort of a distant inspiration — Buzz Aldrin.  As you must know, with Neil Armstrong, they were the first people to walk one the Moon (I like less the version where they say that he is ‘the second person on the Moon’).

Nevertheless, Buzz serves as ISU chancellor, hence we are lucky that he visits us during many SSP (Space Studies Program) events.
While I am not present this summer at SSP17 in Cork, Ireland, Facebook reminded me and here is a repost to the SSP16 blogpost I wrote exactly one year ago after meeting with Buzz.

And still not clear about what exactly he meant as to the comment about Montenegro 🙂

Where are you from?
— Montenegro, … ex Yugoslavia.
Ah, it’s always been mysterious, the Mrs Broz’s property.

Computational Social Science

I find computational social science [1] to be a nice term coined for the relatively new interdisciplinary field that can be summarized as computational methods applied on large datasets to investigate social sciences. Hence, it involves several subdisciplines: computational sociology, computational economics, computational linguistics, and even computational sociolingustics, culturomics and many others.

After attending the Third International Conference on Computational Social Science, IC2S2 2017, in Cologne, Germany, during the past week, I feel I can say some things about the current situation in the field. However, my blogpost will only be able to scratch the surface of some of the topics that resonated with me, hence, not being representative of the field. Given around 120 accepted talks and 80 posters, it was impossible to follow all the results. Nevertheless, I hope that my summary that follows showcases couple developments and trends that are worthwhile and interesting.

Social Media for Health

Ingmar Weber and Yelena Mejova (Qatar Computing Research Institute) summarized in their tutorial talk how researchers in the field investigated health.

One of the most severe diseases of today — depression, has been tackled a lot. In particular, to infer the likelihood of suicidal ideation, researchers used data from semi-anonymous support communities on Reddit [2]. They showed it possible to predict (to a certain degree) from previous discussions when someone will start having suicidal discussions. In another study, Instagram photos posted by depressed individuals were found more likely to be bluer, grayer, and darker. Moreover, people performed worse in predicting depression from Instagram photos, compared to the algorithms. In both cases, we see that algorithms running on online data could be detecting psychological diseases: how will be this used in the near future?

If discussed examples inspire you to develop interventions and support, then following examples show how interventions can be risky if not carefully designed. Namely, on Flickr, there exist unfortunate groups that support and promote anorexia (pro-anorexia).  Seemingly a good sign, researchers also found counter-groups (pro-recovery), that try to reach the members of the first groups and inform them of the negative consequences and dangers of starving oneself. However, research results show that such pro-recovery groups are only counterproductive, at the moment. They entrench the pro-anorexic individuals in their stance [4]. As another example, we heard of a short-lived project that aimed to warn the friends of individuals vulnerable to depression (using similar methods as described above). However, what happened is that some malicious people used this service to intentionally harm such vulnerable people. These examples show that no matter how good intentions you have, you need to carefully attend to their possible effects online — the effects can be unpredictable. Hence, for those of us who still want to help others, the (research) question is how to best design positive health interventions using social media?

Investigating Psychology using online data

Have you ever wondered how many of the reviews on Amazon or TripAdvisor are fake? Those same reviews that you might be basing your decisions on. The answer (for which I do not have a citation) is up to 30%. Nevertheless, I believe that the crowdsourced content platforms are still working well for my purpose —  likely because of the efforts by companies to deal with the fake contributions.

Now, one possible way to detecting fake reviews is using network analysis methods (such reviews have different patterns and frequency compared to real ones). However, during the IC2S2, I have learned about another method that is equally fascinating. Namely, there are established theoretical principles about deceptive statements versus true ones:

  • honest statements are richer in detail (The theory of Reality Monitoring),
  • they contain more contextual references to people, times and places (Criteria-based Content Analysis),
  • fake statements avoid information that have potential to be checked (Verifiability Approach).

Computational Social Science approach now is ‘just’ to develop methods that will evaluate reviews based on these three principles, and you have a fake reviews detection approach [5].

The study about psychological and personality profiles of political extremists [6] that fascinated me is the last one I will discuss herein.

You have probably, too, wondered like me — why some people hold as extreme views. While in some areas extreme views can potentially be useful or at least benign, in most of the areas, they are known to be harmful: either for the person holding the views, or for the people surrounding her, or both.

Recruitment into radical Islamic movements has renewed global interest in political extremist views. This time, given two competing psychological theories about profiles of political extremists, researchers used computational methods on large datasets to asses which theory agrees better with the data.

Nicely summarized to competing hypotheses are:

  • extremists differ psychologically from mainstream activists regardless of their left or right ideology (Collective Behavior Hypothesis),
  • left- and right-ideology activists differ psychologically from each other, independently on whether they are extremist or mainstream (Moral Foundations Hypothesis).

Perhaps surprisingly, researchers have found that the first hypothesis agrees with the (Twitter) data. If confirmed on other datasets, this result would mean, for instance, that radical pro-environmentalists or anarchists have more in common with Neo-Nazis or Neo-Confederates than one would perhaps expect.

While probably still too early to interpret in the above manner, I want to point to one last detail that I found incredibly curious in discussed study. Being different on all the Big Five Personality Traits (openness, agreeableness, consciousness, extroversion, neuroticism), political extremists are higher from all other types of people the researchers investigated on openness to experience. Given that openness is defined to include active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity, how perplexed are you by the result? There are also moderate positive relationships of openness with creativity, intelligence and knowledge. However, another attribute of openness, related to psychological traits of absorption and hypnotic susceptibility, might seem more expected.


Hope that presented ideas have left you inspired and interested to read more from computational social science as they did with me.

[1] Lazer, David, Alex Sandy Pentland, Lada Adamic, Sinan Aral, Albert Laszlo Barabasi, Devon Brewer, Nicholas Christakis et al. “Life in the network: the coming age of computational social science.” Science (New York, NY) 323, no. 5915 (2009): 721.

[2] De Choudhury, Munmun, Emre Kiciman, Mark Dredze, Glen Coppersmith, and Mrinal Kumar. “Discovering shifts to suicidal ideation from mental health content in social media.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 2098-2110. ACM, 2016.

[3] Reece, Andrew G., and Christopher M. Danforth. “Instagram photos reveal predictive markers of depression.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1608.03282 (2016).

[4] Yom-Tov, Elad, Luis Fernandez-Luque, Ingmar Weber, and Steven P. Crain. “Pro-anorexia and pro-recovery photo sharing: a tale of two warring tribes.” Journal of medical Internet research 14, no. 6 (2012).

[5] Kleinberg, Bennett, Maximilian Mozes, and Arnoud Arntz. “Preprint: What’s in a name? Using named entities for verbal deception detection.” (2017).

[6] Alizadeh, Meysam, Ingmar Weber, Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, Santo Fortunato, and Michael Macy. “Psychological and Personality Profiles of Political Extremists.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1704.00119 (2017).

One Young World (OYW) Summit

Here, I just repost the video to the Peace and Reconciliation Session. I took the part in the session with the delegates from other conflicting countries. Actually, I have felt quite fortunate, as we in Montenegro did not experience even close to what people experienced in the countries from which other delegates in this session came from.

Professor Meghan O’Sullivan moderated the discussion in the Dublin main convention centre during which we represented ‘different perspectives’ of a range of conflicts we experienced. I represented The Balkans with several other delegates from neighbouring countries.

Full Session on the OYW website.

Space, security and religion

What do space, security and religion have in common? During the summer 2016, one unique country was instrumental in tying those concepts together — Israel. Israel put itself in the spotlight as it hosted for two months the 29th International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) at the Israel Institute of Technology, Technion, in Haifa.

The SSP program gathers each year around 100 participants from over 30 countries: students from different fields, space professionals and other space enthusiasts; plus nearly another 100 staff: teaching associates, academic and logistic coordinators, core lecturers who stay throughout the program; plus many guest experts visiting for shorter periods. This year’s SSP had many firsts: first time in the Middle East, first ISU space selfie (see the gif below), first ISU drone on a stratospheric balloon.

Spending two months in Haifa as teaching associate for one of the SSP projects (Space Big Data) was an expectedly intense and inspiring team work experience. In addition to that, you learn that Mideastern Israel is more Western than you would guess and a much safer country than you would expect… You find that many more people holding diverse positions in the space field are religious than you would anticipate, and you get reminded by the well-preserved archeology around Israel that our space age takes only permilles of time elapsed since past civilisations have flourished here.

First ISU space selfie, taken by the EROS-B satellite operated by ImageSat International

If you were a bit worried before coming to Israel after reading many recent news about conflicts in the region, then you would start rethinking your image of what being safe means. During our stay, no major incidents happened in Israel, while at the same time in the ‘safe’ parts of the world, where many of us came from, several larger attacks took place: Nice Bastille day and Normandy church attacks in France, Munich shooting and Ansbach bombing in Germany. And if you have an Israeli friend who was five minutes from the Chelsea explosion while visiting New York at the time when this attack recently happened, then these questions are just reinforced in your mind.

SSP16 class photo with ISU Chancellor Edwin Buzz Aldrin. Photo credit: Nitzan Zohar

Spending time in Israel, I have learnt, is inevitably going to involve more religious experiences (in Serbian) and talking about religion than in many Western countries. How could it not be, when literally in each part of the country you find one of the holiest places for one of the three Abrahamic religions, and when sometimes, not being well informed you might even visit one of them without knowing it? Jerusalem, both Old and New Towns built only in stone, a central pilgrim destination for many people across the globe, reminds us of unity on several levels. First, it hosts the holiest places for Christians (the Church of Holy Sepulchre) and Jewish (Temple Mount) and the third most holy for Muslims (Al-Aqsa Mosque). Second, The Church of Holy Sepulchre is simultaneum mixtum (a church in which public worship is conducted by adherents of two or more religious groups) of different Christian denominations: Greek, Syriacs, Egyptian Copts, Ethiopians and Armenian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic, in addition to having Muslim doorkeepers (in Russian).

View of Old Town Jerusalem, Israel

When one of the projects in SSP is investigating the state of our current possibilities for establishing human settlement on Mars (aMarte); when another is exploring the use of artificial gravity technology (Startport1) to support human space exploration; when our evening guest lecture talks about the Breakthrough Initiatives, aimed at finding evidence of technological life beyond Earth, and about light-powered space travel to Alpha Centauri… then the topics of space and religion touch, blur and spark in your mind. You get reminded that we humans have not forgotten our deepest, eternal longing questions: who are we, where does our world come from, are we alone, where do we go…? We, as humanity, are trying to answer these and many other fundamental questions from different angles and perspectives, that maybe sometimes intersect and meet…

Bringing security back to perspective, you hope that these space visions even more grandiose than the Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and the ones inspired by the Blue Marble will remind, if not us then our descendants, how the only security we should think of in the future should be our common one in the vast universe of possibilities. You choose how hopeful you want to be.