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‘Tilburg University has worked in Artificial Intelligence for decades’

Published: 23rd May 2019 Last updated: 16th March 2020

Of the 110 billion people who have ever lived on Earth, fewer than 600 have seen the Earth from space. Fifty years after the ‘Earth rise’ photo, fifty years after the first man on the moon, SPACEBUZZ has teamed up with astronaut André Kuipers to inspire children to become ambassadors of planet Earth. By means of an innovative educational virtual reality program, children can experience an astronaut’s perspective of the Earth, the so-called ‘overview effect’ in a special spacecraft.

max louwerse spacebuzz

Researchers of the Cognitive Science & Artificial Intelligence Department, led by Max Louwerse, Professor of Cognitive Psychology & Artificial Intelligence, will conduct research into the learning experiences. ‘200 school children in Tilburg and the surrounding area have trained as astronauts in school. We will measure the learning experiences as well as the experiences in virtual reality.’

Artificial Intelligence

Through Professor Louwerse, Tilburg University has committed itself to various research projects in the area of technology and human behavior, for instance, the DAF Technology Lab on campus, the CAMPIONE project, the VIBE project, MindLabs, and now the SPACEBUZZ project. What do they have in common?

Louwerse: ‘Although these projects and initiatives seem to be very different, the common factor is developing new technologies that adapt on the basis of human behavior. In the SPACEBUZZ project, for example, we explore how virtual reality, intelligent tutoring systems and serious gaming can be linked for educational purposes. In the DAF Technology Lab, we do the same thing, in fact. The mainstays of the lab are immersive education, interdisciplinary research, and corporate partnership. For MindLabs, too, those are the guiding principles.

Data-driven research

The basis of all these projects is data-driven research. Artificial Intelligence, but combined with exploration of human cognition and physiology. Tilburg University sometimes looks too one-sidedly - depending on the discipline, of course - at the human aspect only. However, various research groups have worked on algorithms, technology, and software for years. I think we should move away from unilateral approaches, from strongly defined boundaries within academia. We look beyond them and shift them within our university by means of technology. The environment here is therefore a very dynamic one. That is what makes Tilburg unique. A university with many opportunities; that is one of the reasons why I wanted to come and work here.’

He also points out that Tilburg University has conducted Artificial Intelligence research since the 1950s. ‘Remember that all science is based in technology. That is not the reason for me to see every program as technology-based but, at the same time, we should not present ourselves as a non- technological university either. We have a long research tradition in fields like Artificial Intelligence, econometrics, and computational linguistics. Moreover, there are no longer any strong dividing lines. It is the same with the supposed difference between fundamental and applied science: that line is fluid. Much fundamental research will be applied research soon or in a few years’ time.’

Louwerse’s career illustrates this development: he studied Modern Literature, obtained a PhD in Linguistics and continued in Psychology and Artificial Intelligence. He is one of the initiators of the VSNU’s Digital Society Learning & Education Agenda. ‘Nothing tops academic research; it is like being a kid in a candy store. But the role I play in the candy store is certainly not the principal part; it is a supporting act. My colleagues, our students, and also our support staff all play their roles in our joint success as a university.’

Max Louwerse is affiliated to the Department of Cognitive Science & Artificial Intelligence (School of Humanities and Digital Sciences). He worked as a Full Professor of Psychology and Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis and was the director of the interdisciplinary Institute for Intelligent Systems there. He obtained more than € 30 million in research funding, holds two patents, published over 130 articles on such wide-ranging subjects as experimental and computational studies in linguistics, intelligent tutoring systems, and verbal and non-verbal communication in artificial and real people.


(Door Tineke Bennema)