An interview with Professor Pål Halvorsen

Author/Interviewee: Professor Pål Halvorsen, Simula Metropolitan Center for Digital Engineering, Oslo, Norway
Author/InterviewerPia H. Smedsrud, Simula Metropolitan Center for Digital Engineering, Oslo, Norway

EditorsPia H. Smedsrud, Michael Riegler

Describe your journey into research from your youth up to the present. What foundational lessons did you learn from this journey? Why were you initially attracted to multimedia?

I remember when I was about 14 years old and had an 8th grade project where we were to identify what we wanted to do in the future and the road to get there. I had just recently discovered the world of computers and so reported several ways to become a computer scientist. After following the identified path to the University of Oslo, graduating with a Bachelor in computer science, my way into research was more by chance, or maybe even by accident. At that time, I spent a lot of time on sports and was not sure what to do for my master thesis. However, I was lucky. I found an interesting topic in the area of system support for multimedia, mainly video. I guess my supervisors liked the work because they later offered me a PhD position (thanks!) where they brought me deeper into the world of multimedia systems research.

My supervisors then helped me to get an associate professor position at the university (thanks again!). I got to know more colleagues, all inspiring me to continue research in the area of multimedia. After a couple of years performing research as a continuation of my PhD and teaching system related courses, I got an opportunity to join Simula Research Laboratory together with Carsten Griwodz. A bit later, we started our own small research group at Simula, and it is still a great place to be.

I think it is safe to say my path has been to a large degree influenced by some of the great people that I have met. You cannot do everything yourself, and I have been blessed with a lot of very good colleagues and friends. As a PhD student, I was told that after a year I should know more about my topic than my supervisors. It sounded not possible, but after having supervised a number of students myself, I believe it is true! Another friend and colleague also said that he had learned everything he knew from his students. Again, very correct – my students (and colleagues) have taught me a lot (thanks!). Thus, my main take home message is to find an area that interests you and nice people to work with! You can accomplish a lot as a good team!  

Regarding my research interests, I initially found an interest in how efficient a computer system could be. I became fascinated by delivery of continuous media early on, and the “system support for multimedia” quickly became my area. After years of reporting an X% improvement of component Y, an interest of the complete end-to-end system rose. I have had a wish to build complete systems. So today, our research group does not only aim to improve individual components but also the entire pipeline in a holistic system – especially in the area of sports and medicine – where we can see the effects of the systems we deploy.

Pål Halvorsen at the beginning of his career

Pål Halvorsen at the beginning of his career as a computer scientist

Tell us more about your vision and objectives behind your current roles? What do you hope to accomplish and how will you bring this about?

Currently, I have several roles. My main position is with SimulaMet, a research center established by Simula Research Laboratory and Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet). I also recently moved my main university affiliation to OsloMet while still having a small adjunct professor position at University of Oslo. Both my research and teaching activities are related to my previously stated interests, and the combination of universities and research center is a perfect match for me, enabling a good mix of students and seniors.

I hope to be able to deliver results back into real systems, so that our results are not only published and then forgotten in a dark drawer somewhere. In this respect, we have contact with several real life “problem owners”, mainly in sports and medicine. To bring our results beyond research prototypes, we have also spun off both a sport and a medical company, achieving the vision of having real impact. The fact that we now run our systems for the two top soccer leagues in both Norway and Sweden is an example of our aims being fulfilled. Hopefully, we can soon say similar things in the medical scenario – that medical experts are assisted using our research-based systems!  

Can you profile your current research, its challenges, opportunities, and implications?

Having the end-to-end view, it is hard to make a short answer. We are trying to optimize both single components and the entire pipeline of components. Thus, we are doing a lot of different things. Our challenges are not only related to a specific requirement or a component, but also its integration into a system as a whole. We also address a number of real world applications. As you can see, the variety in our research is large.

However, there are also large opportunities in that the systems are researched and developed with real requirements and wishes in mind. Thus, if we succeed, there is a chance that we might actually have some impact. For example, in sports, we have three deployed systems in use.

How would you describe your top innovative achievements in terms of the problems you were trying to solve, your solutions, and the impact it has today and into the future?

Together with colleagues at Simula, University of Oslo and University of Tromsø, we have been lucky to find some interesting and usable solutions. For example, at the system level, we have solutions (code) included in the Linux kernel, and at the application level, or as efficient complete system providing functionality beyond existing systems, we have running (prototype) systems in both the areas of sport and medicine.

Pål Halvorsen today

Pål Halvorsen in his office in 2019

Over your distinguished career, what are your top lessons you want to share with the audience?

Well, first, I do not think you can call it “distinguished”. This is your description.

The most important thing for me is to have some fun. You must like what you do, and you must find people you enjoy working with. There are a lot of interesting challenges out there. You must just find yours.

What is the best joke you know?

Hehe, I am so bad at jokes. Every ten years, I might have a catchy comment, but I hardly ever tell jokes.

If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and what would be your answers?

Haha, I am not a man of many words, so I would probably just stick to the set of questions I was given and hoping it would soon be finished 😉

So, maybe this one last question:

Q: Anything to add?

A: No. (Both short since I have to both Q and A)


Professor Pål Halvorsen: 

Pål Halvorsen is a chief research scientist at SimulaMet, a professor at OsloMet University, an adjunct professor at University of Oslo, Norway, and the CEO of ForzaSys AS. He received his doctoral degree (Dr.Scient.) in 2001.  His research focuses mainly on complete  distributed multimedia systems including operating systems, processing, storage and retrieval, communication and distribution from a performance and efficiency point of view. He is a member of the IEEE and ACM. More information
can be found at

Pia Helén Smedsrud: 

Pia Helén Smedsrud is a PhD student at Simula Research Laboratory in Oslo, Norway. She has a medical degree from UiO (University of Oslo), and worked as a medical doctor before starting as a research trainee in the field of computer science at Simula. She also has a background from journalism. Her research interests include medical multimedia, clinical implementation and machine learning. Currently, she is doing her PhD in the intersection between informatics and medicine, on machine learning in endoscopy.

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