Mikael Brunila

Ph.D. Candidate at McGill University

I am a Ph.D Candidate with the Platial Analysis and Urban Politics and Governance labs at McGill University. In the spring and summer of 2023 I am a visiting scholar at INCITE Columbia. I am supported by the Kone Foundation graduate grant and advised by professors David Wachsmuth and Grant McKenzie, as well as Gabriella Coleman from my committee.

My primary interests are two-fold. On the one hand, I work on the application of statistical methods in general and natural language processing in particular to complex social problems. On the other hand, I am investigating the epistemological and historical foundations of natural language processing and large-language modelling, from the postwar cybernetics movement to contemporary practices.

Aside from my academic work, I also work on building on-device search capabilities and backend GIS services for "DRIFT", an end-to-end encrypted mapping and social media app.

Before becoming an academic, I was a journalist in Finland writing about technology, urban subcultures and the far-right. During this time, I co-authored three books: The first systematic study of the new Finnish far-right, an investigation of the privatization of policing in Helsinki during a zero-tolerance campaign against graffiti, and an edited collection of texts about the new enclosures on the internet.

While I am focused on quantitative methods and the philosophy of science today, I started my academic journey doing ethnographic work with housing rights and anti-eviction groups in New York City and Barcelona.

Curriculum Vitae


  • February 2023: We have a new paper out which leverages a huge scraped dataset of real estate and company data to assess the financialization of rental housing in Montreal.
  • January 2023: We are organizing the first NLP for Social Science workshop at the Platial Analysis lab and INCITE.
  • November 2022: I presented my paper "Shannon Games: Neural Language Models, Cybernetics & The Role Reversal Between Information & Meaning" at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.
  • November 2022: We presented a paper on DRIFT at the LocalRec workshop at SIGSPATIAL in Seattle.
  • July 2022: We presented a paper on comparing the linguistic theories of Zellig Harris and J.R. Firth and their uses and abuses in NLP at NAACL.



High rises and housing stress: A spatial big-data analysis of rental housing financialization
Cloé St-Hilaire, Mikael Brunila, David Wachsmuth
Journal of the American Planning Association, 2023


DRIFT: E2EE spatial feature sharing & instant messaging
Mikael Brunila, Michael McConnell, Stalgia Grigg, Michael Appuhn, Bethany Sumner, Mitchell Bohman
Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGSPATIAL International Workshop on Location-based Recommendations, Geosocial Networks and Geoadvertising, 2022

What company do words keep? Revisiting the distributional semantics of JR Firth & Zellig Harris
Mikael Brunila & Jack LaViolette
Proceedings of the NAACL conference, 2022

PrivyTo: A privacy‐preserving location‐sharing platform
Grant McKenzie, Daniel Romm, Hongyu Zhang, Mikael Brunila
Transactions in GIS 26 (4), 2022


WMDecompose: A Framework for Leveraging the Interpretable Properties of Word Mover's Distance in Sociocultural Analysis
Mikael Brunila & Jack LaViolette
Proceedings of the 5th Joint SIGHUM Workshop at EMNLP, 2021

Bridging the gap between supervised classification and unsupervised topic modelling for social-media assisted crisis management
Mikael Brunila, Rosie Zhao, Anrei Mircea, Sam Lumley, Renee Sieber
Proceedings of the Second Workshop on Domain Adaptation for NLP at EACL, 2021


Using deep learning and social network analysis to understand and manage extreme flooding
Andrei Romascanu, Hannah Ker, Renee Sieber, Sarah Greenidge, Sam Lumley, Drew Bush, Stefan Morgan, Rosie Zhao, Mikael Brunila
Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 2020


Learning to common, commoning as learning: The politics and potentials of community land trusts in New York City
Hillary Caldwell, John Krinsky, Mikael Brunila, Kukka Ranta
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2019



Verkko Suljettu - Internet ja avoimuuden rajat
An edited collection of essays on the new enclosures on the Internet.
Mikael Brunila & Kimmo Kallio (eds.)
Into Kustannus, 2014


Äärioikeisto Suomessa - Vastarintamiehiä ja metapolitiikkaa
The first book-length examination of the new far-right in Finland.
Mikael Brunila, Li Andersson & Dan Koivulaakso
Into Kustannus, 2012


Muutaman Töhryn Tähden
A journalistic examination of the zero tolerance campaign against graffiti in Helsinki from 1998 to 2008 and the privatization of policing that occurred through it.
Mikael Brunila, Kukka Ranta & Eetu Viren
Into Kustannus, 2011