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After three years of living and working in the Netherlands, I have often reflected on the differences between the Dutch and their southern neighbors. Student loans that have to be repaid are difficult to comprehend for a number of reasons. Young Dutch people are worse off than their Flemish contemporaries in that respect. In terms of interdisciplinarity, the Netherlands is doing much better. In my opinion, Flemish universities are still too stuck in the mud when it comes to disciplines. For example, every Dutch Technical University has a department of philosophy. What’s more, the Digital Society bachelor’s program at Maastricht University was set up on a wholly interdisciplinary basis.

Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are interdisciplinary themes by definition. Even Alan Turing (1912-1954), father of the computer and computer sciences, can’t be narrowed down to one discipline so readily. He was also a philosophical thinker who wondered to what extent machines are capable of ‘thinking.’ The question as to how machine intelligence relates to human intelligence remains extremely topical. On account of his homosexuality, Turing was forced in 1952 to make a choice: imprisonment, or take hormones as a form of chemical castration. He chose the latter. He ended his life in 1954.

Alan Turing is still very much alive in Ian McEwan’s world

Turing would have turned 108 this week on June 23rd. Yet in the novel Machines Like Me (2019) by Ian McEwan, he is still very much alive. The story is set in a fictional version of the United Kingdom back in the 1980s. Turing has since grown into a war hero after breaking the Enigma code. He holds the title ‘Sir’ and is still active as a scientist.

The Spinozalens 2019-2020 prize is also keeping Turing and his legacy alive; the jury chose him as the ‘dode denker‘ – the dead thinker. The other laureate is Bruno Latour. Together with the Belgian mathemetician Ann Dooms, I was allowed to design a lesson package on Turing with projects for the most senior classes in secondary school education. We really enjoyed working out a series of interdisciplinary assignments on mathematics, AI, philosophy, and ethics of technology.

Rich and relevant

As far as I’m concerned, a lesson package aimed at primary school is more than welcome as well, to pique schoolchildren’s interest with questions like ‘how much can a robot be creative?’ And to teach them in a playful way how encryption works. Turing’s legacy is both rich and relevant. Even Siri should get some extra training. Because when I recently asked the chatbot who Alan Turing is, the reaction was: ‘Sorry, I do not see Ellen Türingen among your contacts.

You can download the Dutch lesson package ‘Waarom Alan Turing een held is‘ (Why Alan Turing is a hero) for free via this link.

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Hans Helsloot, Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous IO episodes.