Massimo Poesio appointed Professor of Natural Language Understanding

Utrecht University’s Executive Board has appointed Massimo Poesio to the position of Professor of Natural Language Understanding at the Faculty of Science’s Department of Information and Computing Sciences. His research will focus on the field of natural language understanding, in close collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities. In this position, Poesio will also contribute to topical debates about the ethics of AI, such as biases that AI can inadvertently learn. Poesio will start the position on 1 May, 2023.

The study of natural language has been a key research topic since the early days of Artificial Intelligence. Also, it has been studied extensively in relation to areas such as Cognitive Science with a focus on reasoning, symbol grounding, and learning. A dominant focus within the study of natural language is natural language understanding (NLU), which involves the study of computational models of human language interpretation. Over the last 25 years, NLU research has matured considerably, and this has led to progress in both practical applications and theoretical insights.

Massimo Poesio

Studying history and culture

Poesio will be responsible for leading scientific research in the area of NLU within the Department of Information and Computing Sciences. In doing so, he will seek close collaboration with the Institute of Language Sciences, and other colleagues at the Faculty of Humanities. For example, in Utrecht University’s Digital Humanities research activities, an important issue is the automatic extraction of meaning from the staggering amount of historical and cultural data that is becoming available to researchers. Important areas include topic modelling, the extraction of concepts and modelling of conceptual drift, sentiment analysis, and the automatic generation of narratives from these data.


Poesio will be teaching at the Department of Information and Computing Sciences in the areas of artificial intelligence and data science. Specifically, he will be broadening the scientific education and research of the Master’s programmes Artificial Intelligence and Data Science. Poesio will also be responsible for the education and supervision of the PhD candidates in the area of natural language understanding.


In the run up to the position, Poesio has been awarded the very first AiNed Fellowship Grant. He will use the grant for a research project called ‘Dealing with meaning variation in Natural Language Processing’. In this project, a selection of PhD candidates will investigate how computers can communicate with people more effectively by considering that language can be interpreted in different ways: we do not all find the same texts funny or abusive, and we sometimes misunderstand each other outright.

Massimo Poesio

Massimo Poesio is currently a full Professor of Computational Linguistics at Queen Mary University of London. He is a cognitive scientist with a focus on computational linguistics and natural language processing, and has an extensive track record of interdisciplinary collaboration with theoretical linguists, psychologists, and neuroscientists.