EEMCS active in three new Gravitation programmes

News - 30 August 2019 - Communication

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has announced the new funding awards within its Gravitation programme, worth some € 113 million. TU Delft is participating in three of the six new programmes. They involve brain research, artificial intelligence and the ethics of disruptive technology. All three programmes involve researchers from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS).. Catholijn Jonker plays an important role in the programs Ethics of socially disruptive technologies and Hybrid intelligence and Boudewijn Lelieveldt and Marcel Reinders contribute to the Brainscapes project. The Gravitation programme, financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), focuses on outstanding scientific research programmes. The funding awards enable leading researchers to spend a ten-year period engaged in innovative research and collaborative activities of a fundamental nature.

The three programmes in which the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science is active are:

BRAINSCAPES: A Roadmap from Neurogenetics to Neurobiology

Main applicant: VU; funding award: € 19.6 million; TU Delft participant: Prof Boudewijn Lelieveldt

Recent genetic research has provided unprecedented insights into the genes involved in brain disorders. The next step is to apply this knowledge to gain mechanical insight into these illnesses. Within Brainscapes, new analytical and experimental tools will be developed to study the influence of risk-related genes on the functioning of specific cells.

“This Gravitation award is the culmination of a decade of collaboration between computer science research at TU Delft and Leiden University’s life science research”, says Prof Boudewijn Lelieveldt, who is also active at Leiden University. “Together, we have established a successful line of research in Computational Biology and Visual Analytics technology. In this project, we will be delving into the enormous amount of data, referred to as Brainscape. The data can be regarded as a highly detailed ‘periodic system’ of brain cells and provide the answer to the question of what type of brain cells they are and which genes control them. This will ultimately open up new insights into the molecular and cellular basis of complex brain disorders that will prove useful in developing new therapies.”

HYBRID INTELLIGENCE: Augmenting human intellect

Main applicant: VU; funding award: € 19.0 million; TU Delft participant: Prof Catholijn Jonker

Hybrid Intelligence (HI) is a combination of human and artificial intelligence (AI). This programme involves the development of theory and methods for intelligent systems that collaborate with humans, can adapt to changing circumstances and explain their actions. In the development of these HI systems, ethical and legal values, such as transparency, accountability and trust, are explicitly taken into account. Applications focus on such areas as healthcare, education and science.

The challenge in this programme is to answer the following question: how do we build adaptive intelligent systems that enhance human intelligence rather than replacing it while also increasing our strengths and compensating for our weaknesses? This question is radically different from the approach in mainstream AI, which is based on autonomous systems that can replace humans. Answering the central question calls for new multidisciplinary lines of research and will not only deliver new scientific insights and applications, but will also play a crucial role in the debate about artificial intelligence and policy relating to ethics around AI.

"In the Hybrid Intelligence project we work towards a symbiosis between artificial and human intelligence", says Prof. Catholijn Jonker. "Compare it with the way a shepherd’s dog enhances the sheep herding capability of the human shepherd. This collaboration between the VU, TU Delft and other partners will make a major, fundamental contribution in all those areas of artificial intelligence that are necessary to achieve this kind of symbiosis. At EEMCS we focus on the dialogue between human and machine that they need to solve challenges for which each contributes its own expertise and intelligence. In particular we will research how Artificial Intelligence can explain its reasons and ideas to others, the social intelligence needed in collaborations with humans and the ability to learn from this dialogue."

Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies

Main applicant: UT; funding award: € 17.9 million; TU Delft participant: Prof Ibo van de Poel and Prof Sabine Roeser

New technological developments are currently happening at an impressive rate. They include innovations in artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, nanomedication, molecular biology and neurotechnology. These very different examples have one thing in common: they have the potential to bring about major changes to everyday life, socially, culturally and economically. But they also raise complex moral issues that call for ethical reflection. In other words, they are socially disruptive technologies (SDTs).

This programme will develop new methods needed to gain a better understanding of the development and implementation of the new generation of disruptive technologies, to enable a moral evaluation and to make it possible to intervene in the way in which the technology develops in the future. This will partly involve enhancing cooperation between experts in ethics, philosophers and leading technological scientists and engineers focusing on responsible and sustainable innovation.

The Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies is the first project in the field of ethics and technology to receive funding from the Gravitation programme.

"New technologies call for a reorientation on classic philosophical concepts such as freedom, justice and responsibility, and on how we can adopt moral core values in innovations", says Prof. Sabine Roeser. "We expect that this reorientation in the fields of ethics and technology will also strengthen the cooperation between ethicists, philosophers and technology scientists’, prof. Ibo van de Poel adds".