While the background sounds make all guests aware of an exciting Night of the Nerds in the connecting rooms, the Klokgebouw also gives the floor to five speakers on the themes of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Creativity, fully embraced by the Fontys University of Applied Science. “These TEC Talks are not only about technology but above all about its importance for society”, says Rens van der Vorst in his introduction. “These are the stories of a meaningful existence thanks to technology. All of them mindblowing.” With one overriding theme: the role of robots. Because indeed, they are overriding, as the exhibition of Night of the Nerds in the adjoining room clearly shows. And even when they’re not there yet in some industries, they’ll be pretty soon, as the five TEC talkers show their audience.

Fontys TEC Talks is part of Night of the Nerds during Dutch Technology Week. Read more about DTW 2019 here.

Danielle Arets leads the Research Group Innovation and Responsible Journalism of Fontys Hogeschool voor Journalistiek (FHJ). Her message focuses on recognizing the sources of dis- and mal-information: often deliberately spread nonsense or ‘alternative truths’. At the moment, there is still a human hand behind it in most of the cases, but more and more it will also be produced via Artificial Intelligence or robots. Arets wants to train a group of “smart lice in the digital fur” – expert students – on her own FHJ, but also knows that this is not enough. “As citizens, we need to become more aware of the danger. Train yourself to be digitally literate, embrace more trusted news brands – and be prepared to pay for them. We should have an army of elves against all these trolls, as is already happening in Lithuania.”

She also has a fear: ‘Digital literacy is becoming all-important. A new social divide could, therefore, arise between people who are so digitally literate that they can afford to regularly go offline and people to whom this does not apply. It is precisely the latter group, the weaker members of society, who will lose out as a result.”

Danielle Arets

Danielle Arets © IO

Where Arets puts her hope in trusted news brands, Marijke Bergman (Fontys Hogeschool HRM en Psychologie) is mainly focused on the trust between man and robot. “Interaction with robots is often difficult, many people feel intimidated. How do we ensure that it is pleasant to have such a machine as a colleague? “That starts with the introduction. What is his role, will he take my job, will that machine determine how I should do my job?” Quite the opposite, she says. “It’s all about forming a team; you have to understand that robot colleague, but the same goes for the other way around. It’s essential to trust the robot, just like people who work together have to trust each other.”

And where many people fear for their jobs when robots arrive, Bergman also points out the new possibilities: “The new generation can simply become a robot choreographer. Or an emotional engineer. Plenty of opportunities.”

Marijke Bergman

Marijke Bergman © IO

Bas Dirkson, CEO of Windtales, is using his moment on stage to explain the usefulness, necessity and risks of serious games. Flight simulators, the Tovertafel (magic table) for demented elderly people and a service such as squla are clear examples of useful or even necessary applications. Employees of Albert Heijn who are rewarded for the number of loaves sold are also involved in a serious game without noticing, but besides the commercial benefits, the risk is also more obvious, Dirkson explains.

Dirkson himself has focused on health care. “We are making a game for very young lung patients, children of around 3 years old who are not yet able to blow in a lung function test themselves.” The Windtales solution? A pizza game on the iPad, in which the player has to blow very hard at the end in order to let the pizza cool down a bit. The insurance companies are not yet ready for full reimbursement of his app, but Dirkson is very happy with the innovation subsidy they have offered him.

Bas Dirkson

Bas Dirkson © IO

Geert Jan van Ouwendorp (Fontys Hogeschool ICT) calls himself a voice tinkerer. He shows us some of his experiments, which were largely made possible with the help of Google Home. From switching on his lights, his music and his beamer, it went to associating with words, to a brainstorm bot. “Why? Just because we can. It’s all about exploring the possibilities, we’ll see what happens later on.”

Van Ouwendorp honestly admits that the great promise of Google Home, Amazon Alexa and others of the same kind hasn’t really come true yet. “Voice has yet to create its own useful context. In the meantime: let’s have some fun and do crazy shit.”

Geert Jan Ouwendorp

Geert Jan van Ouwendorp © IO

In the last talk of the evening, Rens van der Vorst (technofilosofie.com) shows how addictive our smartphone is. “‘To app’ has become the norm, just as smoking used to be the norm decades ago. And both are equally addictive.” Van der Vorst talks about that moment when he was asked to join a WhatsApp group, but he replied that he was not a WhatsApp user. “When I said that? Deadly silence. And then there was a lack of understanding and even doubt as to whether I could be taken seriously at all. The big question for me now is whether we can learn anything from the history of smoking to find out how we can become less addicted to our smartphones.”

One of the most important findings of his research is that there is a “hook” that determines addiction in both smokers and app-users. “There is a trigger that causes an action to get a reward. That reward – which you don’t always get, that’s exactly the sneaky thing – creates a new investment, which in turn can lead to a new trigger. And that’s how it goes around all the time, it’s extremely difficult to escape from there.”

Rens van der Vorst

Rens van der Vorst © IO

Then it’s time for the real robots again. Where in the afternoon another 5,000 screaming children ran from innovation to innovation, including the ones along the Fontys track, the silence has now returned. Night of the Nerds remains a party to which companies like Vanderlande, VDL and ASML make an important contribution, but where especially the various Fontys projects reflect the atmosphere of Technology, Entrepreneurship & Creativity. “Beautiful projects on which our students and teachers have worked hard”, concludes Nienke Meijer, who chairs the board at Fontys.

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