TAISIG organises AI activities at Tilburg University
Society is changing at lightning speed. The big driver behind this transition is Artificial Intelligence (AI). How do you create, improve, or intensify technical and social processes and services using data and AI techniques? At Tilburg University, a wide variety of scientists are involved in AI. In order to map and provide insight into what we do and what we are good at, TAISIG (Tilburg University AI Special Interest Group) was established.
TAISIG aims to combine, coordinate, and strengthen AI activities at the university and to emerge recognizably as a key player in the regional and national AI domain. In addition, it aims to facilitate and accelerate the development of new research proposals and grant applications. TAISIG is divided into three clusters: AI algorithms and methods, AI applications and concepts, and ELSA (Ethical, Legal, and Societal Aspects of AI). In doing so, it covers the full chain of AI method development, application of AI methods in practice, and examination of conditions regarding AI applications such as ethics and legislation.
"Think of it as an orchestra," Boudewijn Haverkort sketches the picture. He is Dean and full professor at the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences (TSHD), highly experienced in the field of digitalization and one of the TAISIG figureheads. "In an orchestra, various instruments are represented that, together, know how to transform the music on paper into a musical story." Fellow director Emile Aarts is a full professor at the Tilburg School of Economics and Management (TiSEM). He adds: "Tilburg University is a large symphony orchestra, not a percussion band. Each instrument plays an important role and contributes to the whole because, just as musicians see added value in making music together, collaboration in the field of AI within our university contributes to the end product. Compare it to the invention of the CD player. You can't attribute that to one person; that was a team effort."
Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects of AI (ELSA)
How do you ensure that technological development contributes to an inclusive, democratic world? You do that by taking a holistic approach. "You cannot separate the development of Articifial Intelligence (AI), the associated prerequisites, and the application. You have to cover the whole life cycle; AI is worthless without human or social intelligence."
Glasses that tell a blind user what is in his/her path. An AI system that can indicate the authenticity of a work of art based on factors such as composition, paint, and method. Algorithms based on Artificial intelligence (AI) are being used more and more. Tilburg University is an expert in it.
AI applications and concepts
Thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI), it is possible to find answers to social issues faster, better, and more efficiently based on data. However, what do you do with it next? Without applications, a wonderful method remains in the researchers’ drawers. Therefore, AI applications are an important part of TAISIG.
How does this resounding Tilburg AI orchestra differ from the Nijmegen, Utrecht, Eindhoven or Amsterdam orchestras? Aarts: "There, too, all the instruments are present. Our advantage is that we are a somewhat smaller university. Thanks to our four larger Schools, we are able to keep the lines of communication short and know what fellow scientists are doing. Interdisciplinary cooperation is our strength. Ideally, we also set out communication lines to the outside world, for example, during a meeting, by pointing out a colleague who can be of added value in a related matter. We have a lot of knowledge to offer. From TAISIG, we give researchers support in applying for research funding and a platform to present that research."
Existing and new
Changes in the AI field are taking place within various social themes such as healthcare, lifestyle, crime, and logistics. "The whole world is engaged in digital transformation," outlines Aarts. "The coronavirus is also accelerating that process, just look at our education system; the current shift to online would have been unthinkable a year ago. Everything and everyone is engaged with AI in some way. That is why it is necessary for Tilburg University to show what it stands for and what knowledge and expertise it has available. In that way, we will strengthen our role and our position." Haverkort nods. "It's partly about improving and adapting existing things. But there are also new elements, such as new areas of science on the borders of existing ones. We shouldn't be afraid to take those on."
Expertise Tilburg University
What does Tilburg University have to offer? The answer can be found in all three primary processes: education, research, and impact. Tilburg University currently has two accredited AI programs, one at the Bachelor's and one at the Master's level. In addition, it offers AI-related study programs such as Data Science & Society, Statistics and Methodology, and Econometrics. Research focuses on solving societal issues. Think about human-machine interaction in healthcare, industry, and education, as well as legal transformations and the social and psychological impact of using AI. "We are active in fundamental AI," Haverkort outlines. "We have a large Department working on AI algorithms and several study programs that attract large numbers of students. We also work on AI from other disciplines and perspectives, in Schools like TiSEM, the Tilburg School of Social and Behavorial Sciences (TSB), and Tilburg Law School (TLS). There are fantastic researchers there who, from their perspectives, tie into the big social AI issues in a close, direct connection. ”
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Connected to AI
How are behavioral sciences and neuroscience linked to AI? Haverkort: "Take the concept of nudging, influencing behavior in a subtle, positive way. How do you get to that point? By analyzing past data, you learn incentives from behavior." "Behavioral science is all about cognition and perception," adds Aarts. "Those are important principles in AI. The study of the brain is needed in the development of interaction concepts for robots and chatbots. It's not traditional or core AI, like deep learning, but it's in the human-machine interfaces." At TiSEM, there is also a link, Haverkort believes. "Under the surface, they do a lot with AI, for example, when it comes to studies of technical and business data processing, such as operations research. These fields make frequent use of mathematical programming, search algorithms, and machine learning. ”
The gentlemen are proud of what the university is able to achieve. Aarts: "Tilburg University is working hard on AI with a relatively small budget, compared to the budgets of big players like Google, Amazon, and IBM. We do this by choosing a good strategy and propagating it. A strategy of AI for humans and humans for AI, a holistic approach. We propagate it in our education, we explore it in our scientific research, and we work together on making an impact with various social partners in MindLabs, JADS, and the DAF Technology Lab." Haverkort: "We have fantastic musicians in Tilburg to play a beautiful piece of music, but if we look even more closely, we can give a wonderful concert. The orchestra is warming up behind the scenes and will be ready to play very soon."