Institute of High Performance Computing


People: Vibrant & Dynamic Culture


Computing Science (CS)


"A good researcher must have ‘frustration’ in order to find a problem to solve, ‘passion’ for the motivation to solve it, and ‘logic’ to tailor the eventual solution to be a science."

- Dr Kayo Sakamoto

As a local in Singapore, it is always an interesting and refreshing experience to hear and learn about our city-island through the words of the expatriate community and to gain another perspective that is both surprising and intriguing. The things that we do and see on a daily basis and to some extent, take for granted, become new discoveries and take on a different light through the eyes of our foreign friends. For Dr Kayo Sakamoto of the Advanced Computing programme, Singapore is really the embodiment of integration and fusion that is rarely found in other parts of the world.  “One amazing thing about Singapore is that high-end technologies and a variety of ethnic cultures are integrated in such a small country. After a working day at Fusionopolis, I can go to Little India where I get to enjoy yummy Indian food, listen to rhythmical music, and just take in the crowds; or to Arab Street, where I drink beer at an ethnic bar against the background music of Adhan from the Sultan Mosque and even to Geylang where there are beautiful Peranakan shophouses and a variety of good local food and tropical fruits (such as durian…). I love this combination of technological convenience and aesthetic sentiments.”

Having lived most of her life in Tokyo, Japan, Kayo wanted to venture beyond her home shores and experience life abroad. “I think Japan is rather good for research. We can study almost every subject in our own language… and there are many universities/institutes equipped with good technological environments. But being a Japanese researcher myself, I notice that the Japanese scientific community tends to be a bit too respectful to authorities abroad. It’s a bit of a ‘the-grass-is-greener-on-the- other-side’ mentality and you could say that I was quite affected by this – I wanted to see with my own eyes if being abroad was really that great.” So, you wonder, is it as good as it gets? “Haha, it’s been a wonderful experience so far! My research with the Computational Cognition for Social Systems (CCSS) team has been rewarding and, dare I say, fun! We all come from different backgrounds such as psychology, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, robotics etc and I feel that it would be a missed opportunity if I did not try my hand at this new kind of interdisciplinary study.”

It is this sentiment and mindset towards the continual pursuit for excellent science that has accompanied Kayo for most of her life. Since childhood, she professed that her interest has always lie in the study of human behavior, and subsequently, human intelligence. “I’m sure most of the world knows that the Japanese are excessively polite. (Personally, I find that weird… haha ) but since my childhood, I have looked upon human behavior in wonder. For example, when giving a gift to someone, why do some people say “this is trivial stuff, so I’m afraid that you might not like this…” ? (I can assure you this is quite common in Japan). Anyway, this is the reason why I chose to major in psychology during my undergraduate years. But studying psychology didn’t satisfy me. I felt a need to see psychological phenomena identified by experimental data from quite different perspectives, and it was in computational (or mathematical) modeling that I found my personal answer… this is why during my post graduate studies, I found myself totally involved in what is called cognitive science, a melting pot of a variety of studies targeting human intelligence “

Having a clear goal in mind was the first step; the next move was to find like-minded people who shared the same interests. Thankfully, the niche field of cognitive science meant that it was not long before Kayo found what she was looking for. “I met Professor Andrew Ortony (director of the CCSS programme) along with Dr Quek Boon Kiat and Dr Karl Fua (who are my colleagues now) at a symposium held at Stanford University. I was somewhat at a crossroads in my life and wanted a breakthrough from my current impasse and the opportunity just fell onto my lap. At the time, I had just been conferred my doctorate, but somehow I was not satisfied. I didn’t feel that I had done enough as a PhD student and I wanted to do more. You could say that I felt that I didn’t deserve it… Anyway, it was then that I decided to skip my convocation ceremony and headed for the Stanford conference. After several lunch meetings and more discussions, Andrew offered me a place on his team in CCSS and a chance to work abroad in Singapore. The rest is history .”
Like all researchers who take time off their work to engage in leisure activities, Kayo always returns to her first love: dancing. “Above all others, I love dancing! – Both doing it and watching others do it. I’m currently taking Flamenco (Spanish dance) lessons and a current goal of mine is to perform a solo dance piece of the Flamenco! Every Saturday, I would make a trip from my apartment in the western area to this quaint dance studio that is located in a pretty Peranakan shophouse in Geylang. There, I would take two or three classes. After the lessons, I go directly to some local restaurant with my totally empty stomach and eat to my heart’s content! The local food here is so much more delicious, with a wider variety and is much cheaper compared to in Japan. After my meal, I travel home by MRT and catch up on my sleep. I can’t live without this Saturday ritual!”

Kayo is also known among her colleagues as an avid coffee lover, so much so that she even has her own special beans! “It seems that even people from another project know that I’m a real coffee loverJ! Anyway, I specially buy this pack of green coffee beans from Japan (though it is made in Colombia…), roast it in my apartment, grain it and brew it using a hand-brewing method in the office. You can say that this is my “coffee ceremony”, much akin to the tea ceremonies in Japan, though mine doesn’t have any meaning to it!   But I can assure you, the taste of the coffee is definitely robust and unique! So if anyone wants to find out how it tastes, I’m always willing to serve you a cuppa!”


This page is last updated at: 17-DEC-2010