Discovering Computational Creativity at the University of Helsinki

Computational creativity is a relatively new field among computational sciences, but it already has an active international community of academic researchers. A part of this international community is the Discovery Research Group, run by professor Hannu Toivonen at the University of Helsinki. The group is interested especially in linguistic creativity methods, including methods for the generation of poetry, word associations, humour, and text summarisation. But the group’s efforts have also included musical composition, a human-computer co-creation study and on-going work in pictorial metaphors.

Computational Creativity in a (Very Small) Nutshell

As Geraint Wiggins puts it in one of the most cited definitions for computational creativity [1]: Computational creativity is the computational study and support of behavior, which would be deemed creative in humans. This behavior may be exhibited either by natural or artificial systems and the computational study and support may include multiple means and methods, such as simulation.

In practice, researchers of computational creativity are usually interested in designing algorithmic methods for composing creative objects, such as poems, or paintings, analysing the behavior of creative communities through computational simulations, or building applications based on what has been learned in previous studies. Sister fields of computational creativity include data mining, computer graphics, psychology and neuroscience to name but a few. And naturally the field draws inspiration from theories of art and art itself.

Computational Creativity at the University of Helsinki

The Discovery group is led by professor Hannu Toivonen, who originally started the group for the development of new data mining methodologies. Today these methodologies are put into new uses in creative computation. Professor Toivonen is an active member of the international community of computational creativity researchers. He has arranged the international Autumn School on Computational Creativity, and works for promoting computational creativity in  the international ProSecco (Promoting the Scientific Exploration of Computational Creativity) network and is the profram chair of the International Conference on Computational Creativity in 2015. This has created an international working environment for the group. Professor Toivonen has also actively promoted computational creativity in the public media (e.g., The TimesDiscoveryNews, New Scientist, Deutsche Welle, CBC Radio, CNET; more here).

Computational generation of poetry is researched by Jukka Toivanen, a doctoral student in the group, who is the main researcher behind the group’s computational poet P.O. Eticus, who recently appeared in the Frankfurt Book Fair. In addition to developing novel generation methods for P.O. Eticus, Toivanen has also actively promoted computational poetry with the Brain Poetry installation. The earliest version of P.O. Eticus was driven by a template based method. The method extracted poem templates from human written poetry and replaced the content with words automatically chosen from a word network built by using data mining methods on large text masses, such as the Wikipedia [2]. The most recent publication of the group on poetry explained how P.O. Eticus is able to draw inspiration from other texts, such as news articles, and transfer their content matter into a poetic form [3].

Paintings inspired by the poetry of P.O.EticusMany of the data mining methodologies behind P.O. Eticus’ are honed by Oskar Gross, another PhD student. Gross has focused on the mining of relevant word associations, which have been put to use in solving many creativity related problems. These techniques have enabled the filtering of text masses, such as news articles for relevant topic matter [4] and effective document summarization [5]. Most importantly for creativity, these techniques have helped computers to solve remote associate tests (RATs) used to measure human creative thinking even more successfully than humans [6].

Another interesting field of linguistic creativity is humour. Humour is the main field of interest for Alessandro Valitutti, a former post doctoral researcher in the group. During his stay in Helsinki, Valitutti studied automatic detection of humorous effects in text prediction systems [7]. These findings were later put to use in the composition of adult humour based on the substitutions of words with similar pronunciation or spelling [8].




Music generation has been studied in the group to some extent. A former member, Aurora Tulilaulu developed a Markov Chain based method for turning sleep measurements to music. The article written on the topic won the Frontier Prize of the IDA 2012 for the ‘most novel and visionary contribution’ to the conference [9] . The work on music was continued, when Toivanen, Toivonen and Valitutti composed songs for lyrics written by the P.O. Eticus program [10]. The new M.U. Sicus-Apparatus generated the lyrics based on a user-specified theme and mood and later used these intentions in composing a musical piece which suited also the syllable structure and punctuation of the lyrics. Currently music related creativity is studied by MSc student Petri Myllys, who is working on music generation on mobile platforms.

The newest post doctoral recruit in the group is Ping Xiao, who introduced the group to a new creative genre, the visual arts. She has previously worked on the conceptual mechanism of visual expressions, e.g. creative pictorial advertisements [11]. She is continuing this work with  MSc student Simo Linkola, with whom she is building metaphor inspired pictorial blends. In addition, Xiao is working on creating novel concepts using graph theoretical methods, within the scope of the European project ConCreTe. This line of research is well connected to Discovery Group’s existing expertise in word association graphs.

In topics bridging different computational fields the group is currently studying  human-machine co-creation. This topic is important as computational creativity methods are put to use in everyday contexts. MSc student Anna Kantosalo focuses on the issues in adapting computational creativity methods into co-creative contexts. The topic of transforming P.O. Eticus’ methodologies for interactive use has been discussed in one of the groups most recent publications [12].

Computational Linguistic Creativity - CLiC

Building on the group’s academic research on computational linguistic creativity, the Discovery Group is now looking to extend that expertise and put it to good use in serious real life contexts. A new project, dubbed

CLiC for Computational Linguistic Creativity, started in September. The four year project funded by the Academy of Finland is tapping into the educational capabilities of computational creativity.

The project, lead by professor Toivonen, looks for ways to improve the existing linguistic generation methods focusing also on co-creation possibilities. The group is currently prototyping with a poetry generation machine designed for children. The development of the system allows the group to study human-computer interaction with a creative machine, as well as possible educational implications of such exchange. To investigate the pedagogical elements of computational creativity, the group will closely collaborate with doctors Liisa Ilomäki and Minna Lakkala from the department of Behavioral Sciences.

Course: The Computational Foundations of Linguistic Creativity

Professor Toivonen has actively developed courses to teach computational creativity to wider audiences. The “Seminar on Computational Creativity” has now been arranged successfully for two years in a row. An introductory course titled “Introduction to Computational Creativity” was held for the first time last year. This autumn everyone interested will have a chance to catch the key ideas in computational creativity, as visiting professor Tony Veale from University College Dublin gives a course titled  “The Computational Foundations of Linguistic Creativity”. The course will continue with a hands on project.

Further information on the group can be found at the group's home page. Information on the computational artworks of the group, including the Brain Poetry installation can be found here. You can also read about the newest trends in international Computational Creativity research in this blog post.

Created date

19.09.2014 - 12:28

New web pages!


The new Computer Science web pages are located on the server.

The address redirects now to the new pages. This short address can still be used as the web address of the Department. The old site can be found at


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