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Dies Natalis 2021: Bits for democracy

What are the latest scientific developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and is the current public debate on this topic sufficiently well-informed? These were the themes of VU Amsterdam’s Dies Natalis 2021. VU Amsterdam celebrated its 141st anniversary on Thursday 11 November. It was an inspiring afternoon with interesting guests, the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Marleen Stikker and the official farewell of Rector Magnificus Vinod Subramaniam. Would you like to watch the Dies Natalis 2021 again? You can do so on this page!

Sandjai Bhulai, Professor of Business Analytics at VU Amsterdam and winner of the prestigious Huibregtsen Prize 2021, spoke in his Dies Natalis Lecture about the developments in the field of AI. He talked about how the use of technology can positively influence our lives, but that we must do this in a responsible way to keep a digital society open and democratic. 

After a musical intermezzo by the VU Orchestra, an honorary doctorate was awarded to Marleen Stikker, director and founder of Waag and De Digitale Stad. Stikker is a tireless advocate for a humane and democratic digital society. Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, was supposed to give a festive speech to the new honorary doctor, but was unable to attend at the last minute. Susan Legêne, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at VU University Amsterdam, had the honour of reading the speech on behalf of the Mayor.

After the awarding of the honorary doctorate, Bhulai and Stikker engaged in a panel discussion with Marleen Huysman, Professor of Knowledge and Organisation at VU Amsterdam, Evelyn Austin, director of Bits of Freedom, and honorary supervisor and professor of Computational Lexicology Piek Vossen about the role of AI in our democratic society. 

This year’s event also marked our official farewell to Rector Magnificus Vinod Subramaniam, who has been affiliated with VU Amsterdam for six years. In search of a farewell gift, he asked for a contribution to the VU-fonds for the benefit of refugees with exceptional academic talents. In total, over 14,000 euros were donated to this project. The VU Association rounded up this amount to 20,000 euros. 

The new Rector Magnificus also made his appearance during the Dies. Jeroen Geurts will succeed Vinod Subramaniam in January. 

Livestream Dies Natalis

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  • The guests

    The Dies Natalis Lecture:

    • Sandjai Bhulai is Professor of Business Analytics at VU Amsterdam’s Faculty of Science. He is also co-founder of The Amsterdam Center for Business Analytics, a multidisciplinary research institute in the field of big data and business analytics. Bhulai recently won the Huibregtsen Prize 2021 at the Evening of Science & Society, together with Rob van der Mei, with the research 'Mathematics for a safer and healthier Netherlands'.  

    Honorary doctorate:

    • Marleen Stikker is founder and director of Waag future lab, and a true internet pioneer. As inventor of The Digital City, she developed the first free-access portal to a virtual community on the internet. In 1994, she joined forces with Carline Nevejan to found Waag, a leading research institute for technology and society. 

    Speakers:

    • Marleen Huysman is a professor at VU Amsterdam’s School of Business and Economics, where she heads the KIN Center for Digital Innovation. The KIN Center carries out research into new developments in digital culture and the impact of digital innovations on organizations. Professor Huysman is also a leading light of the Digital Society research agenda established by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and focuses the often unintended practical consequences of digital innovations.  
    • As director of Bits of Freedom, Evelyn Austin is responsible for the strategy and operational management of this independent Dutch foundation that fights for digital civil liberties. Her other activities include membership of the Digital Culture Advisory Committee and the Netherlands Creative Industries Fund. She studied American poetry and visual arts at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.  
    • Piek Vossen is Professor of Computational Lexicology at VU Amsterdam. Vossen develops computer models that can understand language and is regarded as the Netherlands’ leading researcher in the field of text mining. He is the man behind the History Recorder, a computer system that can read vast numbers of news items, recognize events and link them automatically to record their history over a period of years. 
    • A former leader of political party GroenLinks, Femke Halsema is a prominent political figure who has held a range of public offices. She was appointed Mayor of Amsterdam in 2018.  
  • Programme

    When:    Thursday, 11 November  
    Time:      4.00-5.30 PM  
    Where:   Aula, Main Building, De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam      

    Programme:

    • 4.00 PM: Opening, Interim Rector Magnificus Mirjam van Praag 
    • 4.05 PM:  Dies Natalis Lecture, Sandjai Bhulai 
    • 4.25 PM: Honorary doctorate award ceremony, recipient Marleen Stikker, with music provided by the VU Orchestra Laudatio delivered by honorary supervisor Piek Vossen and response by Mayor Femke Halsema 
    • 4.45 PM: Panel discussion on the theme of the Dies Natalis Lecture moderated by Sandjai Bhulai and including Marleen Stikker, Marleen Huysman, Evelyn Austin, and students from The Iron Man dream team 
    • 5.10 PM: Farewell to Rector Magnificus, Professor Vinod Subramaniam; introduction of new rector  
    • 5.25 PM: Closing remarks