Healthy balance between humans and technology

Don’t be scared of the future.

Digitisation is happening increasingly fast, technology develops at a fast pace, and more and more data is collected. Does that only offer opportunities or does that development also entail risks? “We need to be ready to deal with negative consequences instead of being scared of the future,” according to the four discussion partners of this round table discussion.

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In short

  • Digitisation is happening increasingly fast, and technology develops at a fast pace. It brings opportunities, but risks as well? 
  • Business, education, government and research discuss the exponential growth of data.

Entrepreneur: Jeroen van de Lagemaat is the director of NDIX. NDIX supplies fibre optic connections to companies, with which they can use the IT services of more than 130 suppliers. Also, companies can make direct and secure connections between business locations. NDIX organises the ICT Square Event in the Grolsch Veste in collaboration with the municipality of Enschede, University of Twente, Saxion University of Applied Sciences, ROC van Twente and the Fachhochschule in Münster.

 

Education: Sterre Coenen recently graduated from the University of Twente, specialising in Public Administration. She now works as a student employee at the municipality of Enschede. Her graduation thesis was about supporting elderly care with technology.

 

Government: Gerdien Looman works for the municipality of Enschede and is the driving force behind Smart Enschede. Smart Enschede is a platform that contributes to innovations in the city and smarter management of the municipality through smart services and innovative projects.

 

Research: Prof. Dr. Ir. Arend Rensink is a professor of computer science at the University of Twente and program director of the Technical Computer Science bachelor's program and the Computer Science master’s program.

 

The round table discussion is taking place at a special location: around a bucket at the centre of the Grolsch Veste football stadium. It was deliberately chosen because NDIX's director Jeroen van de Lagemaat is keen to show his customers what exponential growth in data means. “People can’t form a clear picture of what exponential growth means. That’s why I like to visualise it as follows: exponential growth means that if one drop per minute fills the bucket in fifteen minutes, this full stadium is filled in another fifteen. Digitisation and technological developments are going faster than many people can predict. According to many, this is just the start.”

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All four participants in the discussion see positive developments in their fields. Gerdien Looman gives an example of how a municipality can use sensors to monitor the condition of the road surface and the sewer system, among other things. “It is then possible to replace or repair when necessary, instead of periodically replacing it every 50 years as is the current practice. That saves costs.” Another example is the Smart Enschede app with which bikers can get a green light faster. “Currently, we are working on a pilot to place ‘rain towers’ in people’s gardens. They can be used to collect thousands of litres of rainwater during heavy rainfall and discharge them in dry times. That prevents the sewer system from overloading.

 

These are great examples of smart technology solving everyday problems.” According to Rensink, machine learning is a great example that shows how linked data has made new things possible. “Facial recognition and disease diagnosis by combining data of, for example, scans, has proven to be effective.”

 

There are also downsides to these new technologies. Rensink recognises that drawing conclusions based on data can be dangerous. “Reality is a lot more complex than a set of data that you happen to have at your disposal. I am hesitant that people will soon be excluded from, for example, financial credit or education because a negative conclusion has been drawn based on data. There is a danger that an algorithm will take people hostage. That is why there must be room for other human factors.” Exactly because of this reason, a computer ethics course is included in the computer science masters at the University of Twente. Looman agrees that caution is required: “When health insurers provide their clients with a step counter, will they only to this from a prevention point of view, or will they use the generated differently? For example, to increase premiums when clients are exercising insufficiently. We can measure everything, but do we want to? That is the question.”

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Coenen, 23 years old and by far the youngest of the four, is sometimes quite hesitant when she receives news flashes on her phone about crime in her neighbourhood. “How do they know? That makes me feel anxious from time to time. When watching The Dark Mirror on Netflix, I also worry about the social and psychological consequences. We should teach young people how to use social media. It starts with critically thinking about what you are sharing and with whom. It is important to handle new technology critically. Still, I mostly see benefits as new technologies make life easier. We need to find a healthy balance between humans and technology, for example, in elderly care.”

 

The presidential elections in America clearly showed how social media could influence voting behaviour. Van de Lagemaat knows that Google knows exactly which information people are sensitive to and at which time, based on profiles. “Google knows me better than I do. Cybercriminals can misuse this by striking you at precisely those influenceable moments with information that you are sensitive to. Nobody could have foreseen that. The internet was once conceived to allow scientists to quickly share information worldwide. The inventor now acknowledges that he has not anticipated certain dangers, such as cybercrime and misuse of data. We cannot overlook what negative effects will be encountered with future technology, but that is no reason to stop development. We have to dare to adapt and make changes along the way.”

 

Looman knows that the municipality must keep groups in mind that are not digitally aware. “If after next year we only publish digitally and no longer in the free local papers, will we still reach everyone? Those are steps that require careful thought.” This means adjustments have to be made along the way. “We need to be ready to deal with negative consequences instead of being scared of the future. There are plenty of opportunities”, Looman and Van de Lagemaat conclude. As an example, reading software could support people that cannot read comprehensively when receiving a digital message from the municipality. Also, e-mail is much more sustainable than sending messages on paper.

Attract and retain talentAttract and retain talents

All four agree that it is important for Twente to attract and retain talent. A large part of the UT alumni is leaving after their studies are finished. Van de Lagemaat: “I am not worried about the technology side of things. Solutions will be found worldwide for all problems. The big fish will also be able to attract the right people. A bigger challenge in my eyes is how a small IT company from let’s say Tubbergen can attract sufficient talented people and offer them prospects for continuity.”

 

Therefore, Coenen thinks that universities should intertwine more with the industry. “The UT campus is a bubble. I have conducted a survey on Talent in Twente, and it showed that students could not even mention two companies from Enschede. That is why companies should be more prominently present on the campus and students should get out there more. Luckily, this is already changing.”

 

Good command of the English language is essential to find and retain international brains. “Many people can speak English, but that often does not mean they are able to have a subject-specific discussion,” says Looman. She retrained herself with a Cambridge course. Rensink adds: “Our point is not that all of Twente should speak proficient English. I know the resistance against our education in English. At the same time, offering a computer science course in Dutch does not make any sense at all.” According to Van de Lagemaat, most expats can deal with Dutch after some time. “The least we, including SMEs, can do, is provide such people with a soft landing.”

Date: 4 July 2019
Source of tekst: INN'twente
Author: Frederike Krommendijk
Audio / video: Eric Brinkhorst