Fall 2018 Newsletter Tech Labs is out!

After a very busy period here at the Network Institute Tech Labs, we’ve finally been able to create an other newsletter. The newsletter offers some insight in the projects being done at the Tech Labs and gives you all the important news about the Tech Labs.

Please note: The Game Cella’ Lab will move to its temporary location in the Transitorium (KE09) on November 1, 2018!

Find the Newsletter Fall 2018 under the Tech Labs menu or simply download it here!

VR Training App


Europe lagging behind in AI

Network Insittute member Frank van Harmelen was interviewed on the Dutch radio NPO1 about the state of European AI research.
Read the excerpt (Dutch) and listen to the interview (also in Dutch) on NPO1.


Tech Labs: Ons Tweede Huis Festival & Virtual Reality

Health care organization “Ons Tweede Huis” (Our Second Home) held a fun and informative festival in order to celebrate their 50th anniversary. To show what the future could hold for engaging, entertaining and caring for their patients, the Tech Labs of the Network Institute lent a set of Virtual Reality equipment. Using the head-mounted-display visitors got an idea of what this relatively new technology could mean for them and their family in care of Ons Tweede Huis.
The festival was a great success and many visitors tried on the VR set.

Read more about the festival at the Parool website (dutch).


Call for Network Institute Academy Assistant projects

Apply for interdisciplinary research projects with 2 student assistants
Deadline 8 June 2018 at 12.00 pm

The Network Institute’s (NI) Academy Assistants program (NIAA) is now entering its eighth year. Initially funded through a KNAW grant and aimed at combining social sciences and computer science research, it has since been adopted by the Network Institute and opened up for other interdisciplinary projects which fall within the NI’s research themes. The Academy Assistants program aims at promising high-potential master students who want to conduct scientific research and possibly pursue an academic career. Last year, six Academy Assistant proposals were funded, this year, the program will also be able to fund six to seven projects.

This is a call for new proposals to start from October 2018 onwards. The program aims to bring together scientists from different disciplines; therefore the projects must combine methods and themes from two different disciplines affiliated with the NI. For each awarded project, the program funds two student research assistants (0,2 FTE) for a period of ten months. The intended outcome of the projects should be papers and/or research proposals. In addition, at the end of the project (July 2019) we will publish proceedings of this year’s project.


Ministry of Interior pays visit to the Network Institute

On Friday 26 Jan the Network Institute received a visit from a high ranking delegation of the Ministry of the Interior (“Binnenlandse Zaken”), headed by Mevr. Simone Roos, one of the highest ranking civil servants in The Hague. Mrs. Roos was accompanied by a number of her colleagues from The Hague, and by Mrs. Marjolein Janssen, member of the Board of the University. The delegation had an inspiring session with researchers from the Network Institute consisting of Academy Assistants, PhD students and senior academic staff. Topics of discussion were the social effects of the increasing digitisation of society, and the roles and responsibilities of citizens and government in this process. They were impressed with how successful the Network Institute is in bridging the gap between different academic disciplines, and how it uses this interdisciplinary setting to study questions with a high social relevance.


Training the Elderly

Doorstep scams are scams in which a con artist has a convincing, but fraudulent, story with the purpose of coming into your house and/or stealing money. Often these scams appear at the doorstep, for example when somebody wants to enter your house because they must check the electricity or with similar excuses. However, it also happens that the con artist calls you by phone (telling a story about fraudulent payments, aiming to get banking information for example) or approaches you on the street. Elderly people are often the victims of such doorstep scams, which usually have a high impact on their lives.

Within this project, we are creating a tablet application that can be used to train how to verbally act in such situations. The users both learn what to say, and how to say it, in various scenarios. They will both receive automated feedback on how they dealt with the different situations (what they said) and on the assertiveness of their voice (using an algorithm to analyze vocal signals).

This project is a collaboration between the VU and Unie KBO-PCOB.

VU staff working on this project: Romy Blankendaal, Tibor Bosse, Daniel Formolo, Charlotte Gerritsen, Laura van der Lubbe, Marco Otte


VU voorop met interdisciplinair onderzoek

Michel ter Hark, decaan Geesteswetenschappen, vindt dat nergens zo gemakkelijk interdisciplinaire vraagstukken lijken te ontstaan als aan de VU. De organisatie van het onderzoek in de vorm van iOzi’s draagt hier zeker toe bij. Maar het aantal iOzi’s dat behalve interdisciplinair ook interfacultair is, is beperkt en juist hier liggen de kansen van onderzoeksgebonden onderwijs dat aansluit bij de brede belangstelling van bachelorstudenten.

Lees zijn blog.


Piek Vossen en Frank van Harmelen lid van de KNAW

Piek Vossen, prominent lid van het Netwerk Instituut, en Frank van Harmelen, lid en voormalig directeur van het Netwerk Instituut zijn beiden benoemd als leden van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen. De KNAW telt 550 leden uit alle geledingen van de wetenschap, en leden worden voor het leven benoemd.

Frank van Harmelen is hoogleraar kennisrepresentatie en redeneren aan de Afdeling Informatica. Hij is een prominent onderzoeker op het gebied van de kunstmatige intelligentie. Het doel van zijn onderzoek is dat computers zelf kunnen denken en redeneren. Daarvoor moet informatie op een voor computers logische manier beschikbaar zijn. Van Harmelen is een van de grondleggers van het zogeheten semantische web, een beschrijving van informatie op het internet waarmee computers aan de slag kunnen. De regels voor een semantisch web zijn inmiddels opgenomen in de standaarden voor www. Ook maakte Van Harmelen met zijn groep de Nederlandse richtlijn voor borstkanker begrijpelijk voor computers.

Piek Vossen is hoogleraar computationele lexicologie. Hij ontwikkelt computermodellen die taal begrijpen. Vossen leidde EuroWordNet, een project waarbij woorden in acht talen via hun betekenis met elkaar verbonden worden en samen een groot netwerk (spinnenweb) vormen. Computers gebruiken zulke netwerken om het verschil te zien tussen bijvoorbeeld bank als spaarbank en zitbank in een tekst. Verder wordt Vossen beschouwd als de belangrijkste Nederlandse onderzoeker op het gebied van text-mining. Hij bedacht de ‘Geschiedenisrecorder’: een computersysteem dat massaal nieuwsberichten leest, gebeurtenissen herkent en aan elkaar koppelt om zo automatisch de geschiedenis over jaren vast te leggen. Vossen werkte zo’n tien jaar in het bedrijfsleven voor zijn bliksemcarrière in de wetenschap begon.

Zie http://knaw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/knaw-kiest-26-nieuwe-leden-2017


Virtually Bad

This project introduces the concept of “virtual bad guys”: intelligent virtual agents that take a negative or even aggressive stance towards the user. Although they pave the way to various interesting applications, it is hard to create virtual bad guys that are taken seriously by the user, since they are typically unable to apply serious sanctions. To address this issue, this study experimentally investigated the effect of “consequential” agents that are able to physically threaten their human interlocutors. A consequential agent was developed by equipping users with a (non-functioning) device, through which they were made to believe the agent could mildly shock them. Effects on participants’ levels of anxiety and (physiological and self-reported) stress were measured, and the role of presence and perceived believability of the virtual agent was assessed. The consequential agent triggered a stronger physiological stress response than the non-consequential agent, whereas self-reported levels of anxiety and stress did not significantly differ. Furthermore, while presence and believability were substantially associated with users’ stress response, both states did not mediate or explain the effect of a consequential vs. non-consequential agent on stress, as they did not significantly differ between conditions. Implications of these findings and suggestions for follow-up studies on “virtual bad guys” are discussed.

The Tech Labs helped develop the virtual environment, using the custom developed Galvanic Skin response sensor and supplying the VR equipment to run the experiment.

Researchers: Tibor Bosse, Tilo Hartmann, Romy Blankendaal, Nienke Dokter, Marco Otte


Can VR help autistic children?

In this study a virtual environment was build to see if a virtual training agent could help autistic children in trying to relate to other children. The idea was that a virtual environment feels safer and the children will more easily accept instructions and interact with the virtual agents.

The participants would sit in a chair, wear a virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift DK2) and wear a Blood-Volume-Pulse sensor on their index finger to measure heart rate.

The scene was a classroom with two children, boy and girl, and an adult trainer (male). The virtual trainer would ask the virtual children and the participant simple questions. The actual answer of the participant was not important, but the change in heart rate was. By determining a baseline heart rate at the beginning of each trial, the software checked the actual heart rate at several points in the scenario. If the heart rate was above a certain threshold, the virtual trainer would first try to calm the participant down before continuing the conversation.

Reseachers: Laura Helgering, Michel Klein


Frank van Harmelen in Universiteit van Nederland

The TV lecture that Frank van Harmelen gave for the Universiteit van Nederland on semantic technologies and knowledge graphs was available for viewing on cable TV last week, and is now available on the Web. Click here to watch.


Network Institute VR at IDFA 2017

Take a look at this short impression of the VR display at the IDFA this year.


Tech Labs VR featured in Discovery Channel documentary

As most of you have probably seen in the Tech Labs Newsletters, the Tech Labs have been working on a virtual neighborhood for studying burglary. These studies are a collaboration between the NSCR (Jean-Louis van Gelder), the University of Porstmouth (Claire Nee) and the Network Institute’s Tech Labs (Marco Otte). The previous version of the Virtual Environment was used in several studies including one carried out in British prisons using actual criminals.

Discovery Channel made a short documentary of this study which features our virtual neighborhood.

At the moment we are working on the second version of the neighborhood featuring many more houses with different features offering an even more realistic environment to use in studies.


VU Regreening research exhibited at the Museon

The VU research on Regreening features in the new permanent exhibition of the Museon in The Hague. The exhibition interactively visualizes the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. As content partner of the Museon, the W4RA programme of VU has contributed ideas, visuals and texts for the exposition related to SDG No. 15, entitled Plant in het Zand – Regreening. [more…]