# Ho-Am Prize & Scholarship for Macadamia at Aalto University

Update June 2 2021: click here for my acceptance speech (in Korean only)

Note: This is the first in a series of up to three posts related to the Ho-Am Prize I was awarded this year.

## Ho-Am Prize

What an honour it has been to be a recipient of the Samsung Ho-Am Prize in Engineering this year (2021)! The Ho-Am Prize is one of the biggest and perhaps most recognized awards in Korea. Quoting the Ho-Am Foundation directly:

The Prize is presented each year to individuals who have contributed to academics, the arts, and social development, or who have furthered the welfare of humanity through distinguished accomplishments in their respective professional fields.

In particular, the Ho-Am Prize in Engineering is awarded to “people of Korean heritage whose accomplishments have contributed to the development of industry for greater prosperity for humanity.

I’m quite certain what i’ve done so far is anything remotely close to contributing to either the development of industry or greater prosperity for humanity. but, i take it that this Prize was awarded to me not for my individual achievement but to recognize “what we have been able to collectively achieve over many decades in the field of deep learning and more broadly artificial intelligence and data science.*

regardless of whether the Prize celebrates my own achievement or the set of achievements we have made collectively, it turned out that i am the one who receives “cash prize of KRW 300million (approx. 275,000 USD)“. I KNOW! this is the biggest cash prize i’ve ever received. in fact, i could even say this is by far the biggest chunk of money i’ve received at once, and the second largest one does not even come close to it.

since i take it that this Prize recognizes our field rather than myself as an individual, i’ve decided to use this enormous cash prize not for myself but to serve a broader society. because it’s a pretty hefty prize, i’ll spend it in 2-4 distinct ways over the next few months, and in this post, i’ll share with you my first attempt at giving away this cash prize.

one of the most fortunate moments in my career so far was one day in Fall 2008. my friend (Yongwook) and i were taking a course designed for freshman students in a non-computer science major, when both of us were very, very, very far from our freshman years. perhaps obviously, we were always sitting at the very back of a large lecture hall with the sole goal of finally graduating from the university at some point. one day, Yongwook showed up a bit late, rushed into the lecture hall and sat down next to me. he then showed me a (possibly the ugliest) brochure he picked up in front of the department office on his way to the lecture hall. it was a brochure sent to KAIST Computer Science by Aalto University (back then Helsinki University Technology) about the (relatively) new international master’s program in machine learning and data mining. the program was named “Macadamia” (no idea where the final “a” comes from.)

until then, i never planned to continue my study beyond my undergraduate degree, i never thought of going abroad for studying further, and i never even imagined moving to Finland. but, somehow, there it was: the pamphlet from Finland, telling me about this master’s program in machine learning and data mining. within a few months, i was on a Finnair flight on my way to Helsinki (though, i’ve never “lived” in Helsinki but only in Espoo ever.) and, until now, this was one of the best decisions, if not the best one, i’ve ever made in my whole life.

i still cherish the years i spent in Finland.

## Internationalization and representation

internationalization matters. just by talking with, hanging out with and just simply listening to people from all over the world, we not only learn how others live, but we ourselves live, experience, understand and accept how others live all over the world. in doing so, we become more tolerant and open-minded. so, yes, internationalization matters, and we must strive to actively create an environment in which no group of people is marginalized and in which everyone is welcome and can interact with each other.

representation matters. representation matters from at least two aspects. first, representation self-reinforces. for instance, it’s quite difficult for me to imagine my little niece dreaming of becoming an AI researcher, because it’s not easy for me to see how she would find the field of artificial intelligence welcoming, when the whole field is pretty much dominated by men. the only way to break this is to make sure all, truly all, are represented. second, representation is a path toward safety, equity and fairness in engineering and science. i might sound a bit like a broken record at this point, but for instance quite a bit of issues arising from deploying AI/ML systems could have been caught before their deployment had those systems been developed and vetted by a team of developers that properly represent the diversity of the society (see here for a few examples and pointers to original sources.) so, yes, representation matters in ensuring safe, equitable and fair development and deployment of systems we build.

compared to my experience prior to joining Aalto University back in Korea, Aalto University provided me an environment which were much better internationalized and had generally better representation across various aspects. this greatly helped me broaden my view and perspective on a diverse set of topics, and really changed how i perceive the world in general. looking back however i must unfortunately say that my bar was very low.

Aalto University, and the Finnish society more broadly, also suffers from the (relatively) lack of internationalization and diversity. i was in the “international” master’s program which was taught (almost) entirely in English (if i recall correctly Finnish 1 was required, which was perhaps unsurprisingly in the mix of English & Finnish) and attracted talents from all over the world. indeed in my cohort, if i recall correctly, either all but one or all my peers were from abroad, which allowed me to interact with them, learn from them and become a friend with them. however, outside this program, along with a few other international master’s programs, it was a reasonably rare sight to find non-Finnish students at Aalto University (well, at least in the School of Science and Engineering, back then.) there were certainly more non-Finnish but European students who were spending their exchange years, although they weren’t too many either.

Furthermore, within my cohort of Macadamia, if i recall correctly, there was one female student out of 12 or so students.# this balance seems particularly bad, but the balance wasn’t too good among students as well as faculty members within general computer science. i have no statistics available in my hands now, but my personal experience tells me that gender balance was definitely better at Aalto CS than at KAIST CS where i studied computer science in my undergrad years. this however did not mean that it was any good at Aalto CS, but just that my bar was very low.

as i’ve explored beyond Finland, i’ve seen, experienced and enjoyed places that are more internationalized and have more balanced representation of a diverse population. Aalto University can and should do better to better serve its students as well as Finland and more broadly the world by further improving its internationalization and building an even more diverse campus.

## Scholarship for non-EU, female students

here’s two sides of my feeling toward Aalto University:

1. my experience at Aalto University and Finland was simply amazing, and i want to contribute to making this experience available to a broader group of students from all over the world.@
2. Aalto, and more broadly Finland, could benefit even more from having a more diverse set of students so that the whole society, and its members, continue to stay (and become even more) open-minded and tolerant.

these are not mutually exclusive nor mutually independent. in fact, one may say that these are essentially the same thing.