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In honour of our fiftieth birthday, a VUB delegation consisting of An Jacobs, Michel Maus, Romain Meeusen, Ann Nowé, Lynn Tytgat, Bram Vanderborght, Peter Vanvelthoven and Annabel Van Damme attended a plethora of alumni events in the United States, ranging from the launch of the inspiring VUBook ‘Homo Roboticus’ to a nostalgic get-together in the LA based consulate of Belgium. Below, we look back on the highlights of this extra festive US mission.

VUB mission to Los Angeles

 

The Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) organized a lunch and learn event  on “Universities as key players in the social and economic development of a city” and an alumni buffet in the Residence of the Consulate General of Belgium Los Angeles.

 

LUNCH AND LEARN EVENT AT THE RESIDENCE OF THE CONSUL GENERAL IN LA

 

Cities and universities have a lot to offer. For a scientist or an artist, Brussels represents a living lab, for students it is an excellent learning place, and for companies the city is an interesting testing-bed. This lunch and learn event brought together academics from universities (USC) and colleges, and business players to discuss how universities and businesses can cooperate to foster social and economic development of a city.

 

Prof. Romain Meeusen presented weKONNEKT, a unique ULB-VUB initiative in which we connect with the city of Brussels by having classes in the center and by organising cultural events with different partners. Furthermore, Vice Rector Meeusen launched the Homo Roboticus book. Each participant of the lunch & learn event received a copy.

 

TIME TO RECONNECT

 

In the evening, an alumni event took place in the Belgian Residence. Around 25 alumni were present to share memories of their time at the VUB, to reconnect and to make new friends.

VUB mission to New York

 

The Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) organized a transatlantic book launch of Homo Roboticus, a roundtable on the social impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and an alumni brunch in New York.

 

The aim of the mission was to further strengthen international relations and visibility, support alumni associations, and advance academic diplomacy in cooperation with Belgian delegations in New York. The meetings of minds discussed the big societal challenges linked to AI and robotization. The concerned stakeholders explored a shared understanding of the current threats and opportunities. Together, they put forward common goals and action points. The timely topics enhanced the involvement of a wide and engaged public, and provided the VUB with the opportunity to position itself as an expert in the field of AI and robotics.

 

HOMO ROBOTICUS BOOK LAUNCH

 

In an increasingly robotized society, you and I explore and discover new technologies. Although robotics and artificial intelligence can help humans and nature, they also often generate fear. History teaches us that technology has the power to strengthen economic development and transform societies. The applications are ubiquitous: from robots in the factories, the conversion of people to cyborgs, rehabilitation robots, self-driving vehicles to killerbots. 

 

People and robots will live together, and this raises technical, social and ethical questions. How do we want to live as humans in the future? Homo Roboticus, brought these aspects to the attention through a book publication, event and survey. 

 

After the launches in Brussels and Paris, Homo Roboticus was presented at Flanders House in the New York Times Building overlooking New York skyline, from the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty.

 

With the aim to provide a hands-on experience, the transatlantic book launch included thought-provoking discussions, talks and demonstrations by state-of-the-art academics and artists. It addressed different threats, challenges and opportunities of the technical (r)evolution.  The topics varied from love to tax. From da Vinci to rehabilitation. More than 60 persons attended the event and came from a variety of backgrounds, including VUB alumni, friends, New Yorkers, artists, curators, business, academics, …

 

All the speakers and organizers were offered a copy of “Enlightenment. An art of living” by Rector Caroline Pauwels together with a VUB-Dandoy speculoos. The evening reception was proposed by the General Delegation of the Government of Flanders. A copy of the book Homo Roboticus was presented to the audience by hub.brussels.

Roundtable on Artificial Intelligence for the Common Good

 

Artificial intelligence is opening up a seemingly endless range of new possibilities, but comes also with ethical and social concerns. In the premises of the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the UN, overlooking the United Nations, hub.brussels and VUB organized an interactive discussion between experts, influencers and decision makers. The central aim was to share knowledge & information, discuss legal & ethical aspects and build a multidisciplinary network in AI in New York, Brussels and beyond by bringing people with an academic, business and public sector background together.

 

Three central topics were discussed, mixed with inspiring pitches by Pieter De Leenheer, Chief Science Officer at Collibra, Matthijs De Deygere, Product Manager at DeltaQ and Felicia Vacarelu, Head of Communication at UN Global Pulse.

 

The first roundtable focussed on explainable AI with Professor Ann Nowé from VUB AI lab as moderator. There is a growing need for AI systems that can provide an explanation to the user, and make clear which criteria are taken into account to arrive at the decision. Discussions turned on ways or levels to explain it depending on the receiver, that it is a way to gain trust from the user and that as such the developers get more insights and can improve the system. In addition it can be in contraction with privacy or explainability is not always desired (eg in fraud detection system) or needed (when one cannot act upon it).

 

Professor An Jacobs, imec SMIT VUB moderated the roundtable on Corporate responsibility for A.I. Technology is a result of choices made by humans during the R&D process, and we need to make sure that such choices are undertaken in a thoughtful and socially inclusive way. It is positive evolution that social and ethical challenges are more and more included in the debate. Companies take ownership of what they are creating and are taking actions to mitigate negative outcomes. However, avoiding e.g. cognitive bias in training AI is still hard to avoid. Still a lot of trial and error is involved and the experience and creativity of the developer are crucial. There developers need to be more transparent on the design choices. Participants also acknowledged that due to AI more human-centric services can be delivered and can enhance the potential of humans.

 

Since A.I. is seen as an engine of productivity and economic growth, also the financial and tax related implications of A.I. with Professor in tax law Michel Maus were addressed. Because labour revenue is still the major income for governments, how can governments realize a fair tax system when AI generates new revenue streams and shifts labour. Will there be a difference between companies that can shift towards automation and those who can only rely on human labour, especially in care and education where not the same pace of productivity improvement is achievable? Developing countries also need special attention since they can rely on financial support to achieve the needed transitions.

 

The results of the roundtable are bundled in a report with valuable content that serves for further discussion. The report contains action points and recommendations. It provides new ideas and thoughts. All participants received a copy of the VUB publication Homo Roboticus offered by hub.brussels.

 

Alumni brunch: ULB-VUB celebrating 185 years St. Verhaegen at Orsay

 

In 2019-2020, ULB and VUB are celebrating a double birthday: 185 years together, 50 years together. In the framework of this festive year, a joint celebration brunch was organised at Orsay Restaurant in New York (Lexington Ave). The celebration theme for the edition was “Penser Librement zonder grenzen” and more than 60 alumni were present at the successful event.

 

VUB Vicerector Meeusen provided a short presentation on VUB, Homo Roboticus and weKONEKT.brussels. ULB Vicerector Oosterlinck elaborated on international cooperation and the importance of European networks. Different alumni were also given the opportunity to share their support and commitment to alumni networking.

 

As a token of our gratitude the publication “Enlightenment. An art of living” by Rector Caroline Pauwels, was given to the organisers and enthusiastic alumni Jean Nihoul and Jean-Louis Troch.
 

~ Article by International Relations Officer Annabel Van Damme and Coordinator weKONEKT.brussels and Homo Roboticus Lynn Tytgat ~

VUB delegation:
 

An Jacobs - Michel Maus - Romain Meeusen - Ann Nowé - Lynn Tytgat - Bram Vanderborght - Peter Vanvelthoven - Annabel Van Damme

VUB goes USA