Dirk K.J. Heylen



Professor Socially Intelligent Computing – University of Twente

Scientific Director of the 4TU Center on Humans and Technology

Programme Director Human Computer Interaction and Design

Co-director of the Center for Monitoring and Coaching


Research interests cover both the machine analysis of human (conversational) behaviour and the generation of human-like (conversational) behaviour by virtual agents and robots. He is especially interested in the nonverbal and paraverbal aspects of dialogue and what these signals reveal about the mental state (cognitive, affective, social). These topics are explored  from a computational perspective: how can we build machines that can automatically interpret these signals and how can we build cognitive systems that can display such communicative signals. Besides that he displays an active interest in combining this experience with playful investigations into art and philosophy.


After his studies of Linguistics, Computer Science and Computational Linguistics at the University of Antwerp, he moved to the Institute of Dutch Lexicology in Leyden, to develop tools for enriching natural language databases. After a couple of years he went on to the Utrecht University and got involved in the biggest European project on Machine Translation ever: EUROTRA. After coordinating a follow-up EU project, he started his PhD project on a logical approach to natural language analysis and parsing (Type Logical Grammar).

At the University of Twente he started working on embodied dialogue systems (aka virtual agents or embodied conversational agents). This made his interests shift from pure natural language processing to the automatic analysis of body language, from text analysis to real-time human-machine interaction, and from the logical analysis to a much broader concern with emotion and social relations in interaction. Topics include: dialogue management, human behaviour modeling, cognitive modeling, human-robot interaction, methodological issues in corpus studies and annotation (see e.g. the involvement in workshops on multimodal corpora) and how computational methods can inform social and behavioural science. He is involved in several efforts in standardisation in this area.

He plays a leading role in the fields of Affective Computing (Former President and current Secretary of the Association), Social Signal Processing (co-instigator of the NoE, currently involved in several initiatives to define the research agenda for the next years) and Intelligent Virtual Agents (steering committee of the main conference in this area).

As far as teaching is concerned he has taught several courses in his main area of expertise and has explored the connection between research and arts in various contexts: as coordinator of the minor Art Media and Technology, teacher of the course on art and media technology, and as advisor to several national initiatives on art and technology (De Waag, V2, HKU).


He has been involved in acquiring several European projects such as the NoE Humaine and SSPNET, the AMI and AMIDA Integrated Projects, COST 2102 (coordination activity), Semaine, SSPNET, and SERA (Streps), and Horizon 2020 projects Aria Valuspa and De-Enigma. In these projects he is or has been working as workpackage leader and/or he was part of the management boards.

He was involved in many Dutch national projects including BrainGain in which neural correlates of a user’s experience are explored for Human Computer Interaction using Brain Computing Interfaces and GATE dealing with cognitive models of virtual agents in training applications. He was the project leader of the COMMIT/ project Interaction for Universal Access and is leading a workpackage in the COMMIT/ project VIEWW, where innovative Tactile Interfaces are being developed. The 4TU Center Humans & Technology and the research programme Smart Social Systems and Spaces for Happy and Healthy Living were initiated by him and they are now directed by him.

Besides the Aria-Valuspa and De-Enigma projects mentioned before project acquistion has resulted in three COMMIT/ valorisation projects (*bot, Great, Tasty Bits and Bytes); several projects sponsored by external partners: Let Him Speak, AVATAR (by the National Police) and FIODSpraak (sponsored by FIOD). NWO projects approved in include the “middelgroot” icub project, and the “Affective Language Generation” project. On a local UT level he is involved in four Tech4People projects and has initiated together with colleagues from other departments the Center for Monitoring and Coaching.


Antwerp University:

–      Germanic Philology

–      Computer Science (Postgraduate)

–      Computational Linguistics  (Postgraduate)

Utrecht University

–      PhD Computational Linguistics – Type Logical Grammar


2011-now UT, Full Professor Socially Intelligent Computing

1999-2011 UT, Assistant / Associate Professor: Intelligent Multimodal Human-Media Interaction

1994-1998 UU PhD Student Research Institute for Speech and Language Technology

1989-1994 Associated Researcher/Tutor and Project coordinator, Research: on Machine Translation within  EU projects, Eurotra and Collocations (Coordinator), Teaching: NLP courses

1987-1989 Antwerp University Researcher and software developer Working at the Institute of Dutch Lexicology, Leyden


Programme Director International MSc Human Computer Interaction and Design

Programme Director Graduate Programme Human-IT

Chair of the Board of Examination of Creative Technology and Interaction Technology

Programme Mentor MSc Interaction Technology  and HCID

Courses: Conversational Agents, Affective Computing, Designing Interactive Experiences