‘This really is a golden opportunity’, says Brinksma, referring to EUR’s potential role in the deployment of AI to solve societal problems. Until recently, AI mainly held attractions for nerds and techies, but today, says Brinksma (himself a techie), the ‘second phase’ has begun in the deployment of artificial intelligence – a phase that will depend strongly on EUR’s fields of expertise.

Opportunities and threats

Ed Brinksma in gesprek met minister Dijkgraaf 2022 – Levien Willemse
President of the Executive Board: ‘This really is a golden opportunity’ Image credit: Levien Willemse

Brinksma: “The impact of AI in our lives, organisations and society in general is growing, and will continue to grow. Formulating the preconditions and the legal and ethical implications is a challenge ideally suited to the strengths of our university. How can we use AI for the common good? After all, AI brings threats as well as opportunities.”

One of the opportunities he mentions has to do with a pressing current issue: finding a way to solve the water shortage. How can we join forces to tackle this problem? “This is no longer just about the figures – it’s about finding an intelligent way to address the issue. And that’s where our scientists can be of great help.”

But there are also threats, Brinksma warns, such as the radical use of AI by the Chinese government, which is turning the country into a police state. “That’s not what we want.”

Art encourages us to discuss complex matters

But how to engage arts and humanities and social scientists in a high-tech subject such as AI? Brinksma’s advice is to use art. “The language of art can help us discuss things that are too complex to explain in words.” He makes no secret of his enthusiasm about the role of art and the connections between art and science.

It is no coincidence, for example, that one of the most important guests at the Opening of the Academic Year is artist Refik Anadol. Anadol is a media artist who uses staggering amounts of data for his installations. These can be photographs or other data that combine into almost hallucinating moving images.

Gesamtwissenschaft

Brinksma is enthusiastic about these technology and science-driven forms of art. He likes to draw a comparison with the Bauhaus, an institution for visual artists, artisans and architects that had a significant influence on art education and, more generally, on art and design in the period between the First and Second World Wars. “I believe that the ideas developed by the Bauhaus movement to create Gesamtkunst with contributions from artists and artisans are also quite relevant to our own times: Gesamtwissenschaft in which artists and scientists join forces.”

In this context, Brinksma refers to the collaboration between EUR, Codarts and the Willem de Kooning Academy as the ‘fourth leaf on the clover’ of the Convergence Alliance, the partnership between EUR, Erasmus MC and TU Delft. It allows art to play a role in these partnerships and makes it possible to establish connections between art and science – a new Bauhaus movement almost.

Another thing that the university can learn from Bauhaus, says Brinksma, is to focus on talent rather than just on diplomas. He mentions the example of Theo van Doesburg, Dutch artist and founder of the De Stijl art movement who was also involved in the Bauhaus. He barely managed to complete primary education but had an incredible talent as an artist and revolutionised the world of art and design.

“His example forces us to ask questions. Hasn’t our education system become a system of mass production? And is a diploma really the most important criterion when it comes to true innovative power? Rather than only focusing on the average”, Brinksma argues, “we should also provide scope and opportunity to talented people who do not adhere to the rules of our system.”

'Up to our necks in the water'

Brinksma does not want to go as far as to totally reorganise the current education system, but he would certainly welcome an alternative structure ‘next to’ the existing system.

At the start of a new academic year, however, priority is given to other concerns related to the increasing influx of students into university education. Before the summer, Minister Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture and Science repealed the Language and Accessibility Act (Wet taal en toegankelijkheid). This act offered a set of tools aimed in particular at improving control of the growth of international student numbers in the Netherlands. Brinksma has mixed feelings about the minister’s decision. “On the one hand I’m happy because the act would have obliged us to grow, but it also offered tools that would have enabled targeted intervention in cases of undesirable growth – tools we lack at present.”

But talks about this issue with the minister will start in September, Brinksma adds. “We hope those talks will produce something that will get us further. It’s really essential that the minister presents some sort of initiative this year. If not, we’ll take the initiative ourselves. We’re up to our necks in the water.”

The Opening of the Academic Year can be watched online through this link.