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Our colleague and friend Piero Mussio, IAPR Fellow since 1998, passed away on August 21, 2010, after a long illness which, despite its severity, did not shatter his enthusiasm for research and teaching, until the very end.

All those who have known Piero in his 40 years of activity, even for a short time, have received the impression of a person of great, though unpresuming, culture, interested in a number of subjects, both scientific and social. Piero was a hydraulic engineer who turned into a computer scientist very soon in his career by starting to analyze astronomical data, biomedical signals, and mechanical blueprints, collaborating with physicists, biologists, physicians, and engineers. His approach had always been that of a systems scientist, armed with a rich set of techniques stemming from pattern recognition and image analysis.

Piero's activity in the field of Pattern Recognition was devoted to building systems for users (to him always domain experts) who had to analyse and interpret data  or to control and automate processes involving the use of images. Even when developing original algorithms for coding segmented images, for recognising structures in satellite images, or for interpreting data about glacier reduction, the user was the central focus of the system; the priorities, the methods used, the expected results were all defined by the user himself. It came therefore as a natural evolution of this activity for Piero to move from the field of pattern recognition to that of content-based image retrieval, to the design of user interfaces for annotation systems. In all these cases, the starting point was the identification of the structures which were relevant to the experts, and the construction of tools to facilitate their recognition and interpretation, especially in face of ambiguities which had to be resolved in the context of the interpretation process. The notion of structure, as well as the preoccupation with the integrity of the visual message conveyed by the interface,  provided the foundation for the theory of visual sentences we developed together with Piero and Francesca Costabile, with the ambition of providing a framework for a coherent view of all processes involving visual communication.

As for all things, science for Piero went together with social commitment, and he did not shy away from taking roles in the community, promoting conferences, participating in the annual school on Machine Vision and serving as Chair of the Italian IAPR Member Society from 1994 to 1995.

Together with science, Piero’s other great passion was teaching. The relationship with students was not that of knowledge transmitter, but of mentor along the personal path he thought one had to walk. So, what he really taught was how to look at problems in different, even non-standard and personal ways. Everybody who followed one of Piero's courses came out of it not only with a bag of techniques, but with a cultural enrichment on many levels.

As an engineer, Piero was not afraid of technology. At the same time, he recognized its dangers - one of his favourite sentences being "technology always betrays the user" - when the user is not armed with the culture to manage it. Again, what he taught, not only to students, but also to workers and shop-stewards, was how to develop such a culture.  Sentences such as the one above, and many others, were witnesses to one of the main features of his character: his self-irony that burst forth in many unexpected moments, particularly when things did not go in the right way (possibly after one of his phenomenal rages had receded).

We all feel that his passing away was really too soon and that the Italian research community has lost a very precious person on both the human and the scientific level.

In Memoriam…


Piero Mussio, IAPR Fellow

by Paolo Bottoni and

Stefano Levialdi, IAPR Fellow

Other articles in the

Getting to Know...Series:



Image Analysis with Discrete Tools by Gabriella Sanniti di Baja

             July 2010   [html]   [pdf]


Has the time for telepresence finally come? by Larry O’Gorman

             April 2010   [html]   [pdf]


Biometrics:  The key to the gates of a secure and modern paradise by Nalini K. Ratha

             January 2010   [html]   [pdf]


Recognition of Human Activities:  A Grand Challenge by J.K. Aggarwal

             October 2009   [html]   [pdf]


Piero Mussio—Curriculum Vitae

(as found at the web site of the

Computer Semiotics Laboratory )


Scientific interests

Evolved from Structural Pattern Recognition in images (see publications) and Complex System Behaviors (see publications) to Pattern Recognition in Human Computer Interaction (see publications), Visual Computing (see publications) and End User Development (see publications). He was elected IAPR Fellow in 1998.


Professional experience

Evolved from researcher in Data Analysis and Pattern Recognition at the Laboratory of Cosmic Physics of the Natl. Research Council of Italy in Milan to professor in Computer Science at the University of Milan. From 1983 to 2007, he served as scientific coordinator and principal investigator of national, regional and local research units in several international and national projects and industrial contracts.


Teaching experiences

Evolved from top-down (from theory to practice) teaching of System Theory to bottom-up teaching of Computer Organization and Human Computer Interaction.



Evolved from happy single to joyful

husband and proud father.


Affiliation, organizational activities

· Fellow IAPR, member of the ACM;

· Member of the Pictorial

Computing Laboratory, headed by

Prof. Levialdi, University 'La

Sapienza', Rome;

· President of the International Association for Pattern Recognition Italian Chapter from 1992 to 1994.

· Associate editor of Journal of Visual Languages and Computing;

· Program chair for the 1999 IEEE Workshop on Visual Languages Tokio, 1999;

· General Co-chair of 2000 IEEE Workshop on VL, Seattle, 2000;

· Scientific co-chair of AVI 2006, Venice;

· Committee member for PR, HCI and machine vision conferences, schools and workshops.

A few days before ICPR 2010 in Istanbul, Piero Mussio, IAPR Fellow and former President of GIRPR the IAPR Member Society from Italy, passed away.


This In Memoriam article will also help the IAPR community get to know another of its Fellows.

~ A. Branzan Albu, editor