Athanasios Votsis
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Personal profile

Research interests

I am a semiotician (i.e. the study of signification and communication of meaning), as well as a systems and computation scholar, with qualifications in human geography (PhD, University of Helsinki) and urbanism (Master's, Virginia Commonwealth University), and expertise in both the Humanities & STEM disciplines.  


I have been active in diverse lines of research, connected by the red thread of complex adaptive systems as applied to human-environment systems (both natural and technical environments), especially topological patterns of behaviour and of thought at the individual and community level:


  • Semiotics, esp. as applied to culture, topology, myths, urbanism & architecture, and AI & robotics (the latter in connection to—or as part of—the epistemology and ethics of AI & robotics. To promote the fundamental role of semiotics in contemporary research and education, I have established Séméiologie, the semiotics reading group of the University of Twente:
  • Computational methods, esp. AI and complexity approaches: cellular automata, agent-based models, space syntax, fractals, fuzzy logic, 'fuzzy' cognitive maps.
  • Urbanism & Spatial planning, notably urbanisation scenario simulations, liveable and healthy cities, bottom-up urbanism and societal resilience, typologies of sustainable cities and their long-term resilience trajectories.
  • Spatial economics, esp. housing markets, economic effects of natural risks and adaptation-mitigation solutions, spatial econometrics and the spatial structure and spatial interaction of economic mechanisms.
  • Climate and weather adaptation/resilience in cities and territories [heatwaves, flooding, ecosystem services], and the aviation and energy sectors.
  • AI and robotics, esp. automated reasoning and knowledge representation in the domains of spatial cognition; human-machine interaction and hybrid reasoning; distributed intelligence and the regulation/control of complex adaptive systems.  


I have lectured courses on semiotics, humane AI, spatial planning & economics, and computational methods. I have served as PI, task leader or contributor in numerous ERC and National research projects and recently contributed to the UN ESCAP-APDIM's first Sand and Dust Storms Risk Assessment for Asia and the Pacific.


I am a proud member of 4TU Resilience Engineering, UT's DesignLab and StoryLab 2.0, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA), the Urban Economics Association, the European Sustainable Energy Innovation Alliance (ESEIA), the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP; serving as the contact person for UT-BMS-CSTM), and the International Environmental Modelling and Software Society (iEMSs).


Supervisory work (completed Masters and PhD theses) — selected examples:

  • Space Syntax analysis and observational fieldwork to develop urban design recommendations for intergenerational public spaces (Amber Lim, University of Helsinki).
  • Circular economy approaches to cities, focusing on how algae can provide solutions to the key metabolic challenges of urban systems (Evgenia Ntanou, University of Twente).  
  • Cellular automata modelling for parametrising and categorising the spatial growth patterns of the largest Finnish cities (Katja Toivola, Aalto University).
  • Fuzzy Cognitive Maps to develop policy recommendations for renewable energy transitions at national and municipal scales (Arash Kamali and Reza Shahbazi, University of Twente), and for nuclear energy (Nadine Hendrikse, University of Twente).
  • Sustainable spatial planning paradigms, including ecotourism (Kyriakos Georgas, University of Twente), energy efficient co-housing (Duncan Kipchirchir, University of Twente), walkable cities (Ebrahim Khajeh Pour), and national parks and forests cross-governance (Caitlyn Taylor Walker, University of Twente). 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


  • NA Architecture
  • Spatial planning
  • Urbanism
  • Sustainable cities
  • Bottom-up urbanism
  • G Geography (General)
  • Economic geography
  • Human geography
  • Urban studies
  • HA Statistics
  • Spatial econometrics
  • Time series econometrics
  • Q Science (General)
  • Computational methods
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Complexity science
  • Cellular automata
  • Fuzzy logic
  • Agent-based models
  • Fractals
  • Simulation/modeling ethics
  • Model interpretability
  • HD61 Risk Management
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Climate change mitigation
  • Air quality
  • Heatwaves
  • Flooding
  • Sand and dust storms
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Urban resilience
  • HB Economic Theory
  • Spatial economics
  • Housing markets

Artificial Intelligence Expert

  • Human AI Interaction
  • Knowledge Representation and Reasoning
  • Traditional Machine Learning
  • Ethical Dimensions of AI
  • Legal Requirements for AI
  • Societal Context of AI
  • Geo Sciences
  • Energy, Sustainability, Environment and Circularity

Transport Expert

  • Aviation
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Simulation
  • Infrastructure (road, rail, other)

Robotics Expert Keywords

  • Social and Daily Life
  • Legal and Regulations
  • Ethics
  • Machine Learning
  • Perception and Cognition
  • Systems Engineering
  • Swarming


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