I am the Systems Engineering section manager in the Multi-Actor Systems department and the title of my chair is Engineering Systems Foundations.
Tell us about your personal life
I was born in Toronto (1957), but have lived in the Netherlands since I was a teenager. I am married and have one son. We live in Ter Aar, with a beautiful view of the countryside. Every day when I’m not at work, I go walking; rambling through the countryside is something I really enjoy!
What is your favourite hobby?
Apart from walking, I enjoy cookery and swimming and I like going to the sauna. We recently had our own sauna installed - it’s wonderful! I also like to spend as much time as possible with my family. We like going on excursions; last year we even went to see the launch of the space shuttle in the States. This also includes seeing family and friends; I have some long-term friendships with people from all over the world and we regularly have people to stay from abroad.
The high point of your career?
It is difficult to choose a single event as a highlight. Wonderful things happen on a daily basis. One special occasion was when I defended my thesis, and held my inaugural speech, ten years ago at the VU, entitled ‘Agents on the Go: Next Generation Interactive Internet Systems’. When you realise that things are working and everything is falling into place, it’s a fantastic experience. I am also looking forward to my second inaugural speech, on 14 October this year, in Delft, when I will talk on the subject of Participatory Systems.
Your greatest challenge?
Our new Participatory Systems Initiative, and the challenge is the subject of large-scale distributed systems - technical, social, ecological systems. These are systems in which human agency and agency in the form of organisational and technological infrastructure are designed to be in balance with each other. The challenge of the Participatory Systems Initiative is to identify a new paradigm for the design of these dynamic adaptive network systems. The key issue here is to give people technical possibilities that enable them to take personal responsibility as participants in major complex dynamic systems.
This research calls for cooperation across the different disciplines - as is customary here in the faculty - nationally and internationally, with experts in design and technology, but also with researchers from the social sciences, from law, design and art.
One special aspect of this is my role in our faculty’s cooperation with Eleanor Ostrom, the Nobel prize-winner for Economics in 2009. In the field of common pools, she is seeking to identify the limits of autonomy. We actually do the same here, at the interface between ecology, society and technology.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I worked for 28 years as professor of Intelligent Interactive Distributed Systems (IIDS) at the Faculty of Sciences at the VU in Amsterdam. In 2009, our whole group moved to TU Delft. What I find particularly gratifying is that I now have the opportunity to develop my research into the self-management of complex autonomous systems in the interdisciplinary environment offered by TPM. I strongly believe in bringing together different fields of knowledge and in the synergy that that delivers. That is reflected in my academic background in Mathematics/Computer Studies, Cognitive Psychology and Artificial Intelligence.
I am also the vice-chair of the National Network of Women Professors. I believe that there is a lot of room for improvement with regard to the position of women within the academic world.
Finally, I also enjoy being a pioneer. For example, I am one of the founders of NLnet, the very first internet service provider in the Netherlands and was the director of research of the Stichting NLnet for ten years. I am now a member of the board of Stichting NLnet Labs.
At general universities, the grounding of scientific reseach in practice is often missing. Here in Delft, the practical application is always at the forefront. The interdisciplinary approach is also one that I was almost born into. The same is true of the sustainability agenda of TU Delft, which deals with major issues in society such as energy and health. These affect everyone and I am fascinated by the question of how to organise these kinds of large systems. What are the systems capable of themselves, and how do you create interaction? And, last but not least, I find the atmosphere here in Delft highly inspirational.
Your best characteristic?
Building bridges. I always try to understand what people do and why they do it. If you understand what drives people and why, it is possible to make progress.
Your worst characteristic?
Patience, but not in my dealings with other people, but mainly with myself. I really want things to happen. For example, I would like to see a culture shift in the academic world, in favour of women. This transformation cannot happen fast enough for me! I have this impatience in many areas. I always want much more than is possible at any given time. It all started when I was six years old; even then I wanted all the things that were not possible at my age.
What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda?
Trust. Ensure that people regain trust and confidence in government and in the systems that you develop. It is important to incorporate transparency, to include autonomy and responsibility in the design; it helps to increase trust. For example on the issue of personal data: how can you guarantee integrity and privacy, how can you ensure that data is removed from the system forever when it needs to be?
Your source of inspiration?
Not a particular person or book, but the idea that cooperation between the different disciplines can lead to inspiration. I also always follow my intuition, even if that may seem rather strange for a real scientist like me.