Artificial Intelligence: rise of the thinking machines

AIThursday March 30th

19:45 live music by Catch-22
20:15 speakers
Café Loburg

It’s the talk of the town: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning (DL) and Machine Learning (ML). But why? Because self-learning computers have not only been infiltrating already our daily lives, but are expected to change our near future even more profoundly, with applications ranging from self-driving cars, drones, robots, search engines, online assistants, playing games, image recognition in photographs, proving mathematical theorems and targeting online advertisements, to sophisticated and reliable medical diagnosis and treatment protocols. Currently, diagnosis of early cancers by AI has already outperformed the diagnosis by professional physicians.
It has long been taken for granted that computers were simply ‘dumb’ machines, incapable of learning themselves without a human intermediate, but ‘those were the days’

Perhaps the two most common challenges to self-learning computers are speech-recognition and image and pattern recognition. These applications run through deep learning. In this technique, the computer is not actually taught how to recognize speech or images. Instead, it is given tons of algorithms, with loads of data for comparison. The computer makes sense of it all and ‘learns’ itself how to recognize speech and images. But is this enough for a robot to truly acquire Artificial Intelligence?

Clearly, intelligent machines are becoming increasingly better than humans at so many tasks, and as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them … merge with them.
In this session of SCW, our renowned speakers will introduce us to the exciting world of AI and discuss several machine learning techniques and how we (should) use AI-methods to investigate how children learn language, thereby allowing robots to learn language.

Dr. Paul Vogt (Tilburg centre for Cognition and Communication) is particularly interested in investigating how humans and machines can ground the meaning of linguistic utterances in the real world, and how they learn language from each other through social interactions. To this end, he has used a variety of techniques, ranging from artificial intelligence and psycholinguistic experiments to ethnographic research of children’s language acquisition in different cultures.

Roy de Kleijn (PhD, Leiden University) lectures on topics such as artificial intelligence, computational modeling, artificial neural networks, and consciousness. His PhD research is focused on developing computational models of cognition for use in robotic systems as part of the EU-funded research project RoboHow.Cog: Web-enabled and experience-based cognitive robots that learn complex everyday manipulation tasks.

Previous session: Agriculture in a changing world

poster Agriculture in a changing worldWednesday February 22nd

19:45 live music door 2MusE
20:15 speakers
Café Loburg

The Science Café session on “Agriculture in a changing world” featured dr. Siobhan Brady (University of California, Davis, USA) and prof. dr. Harro Bouwmeester (University of Amsterdam) as speakers. They showed us how looking at plant roots helps finding crops able to deal with the issues of climate change.

Throughout the world we can see extremes in water availability. Dr. Siobhan Brady opens her talk with showing us examples of floods and droughts in the USA, France and the UK. Next to that, we all know that the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are rising. By itself, elevated levels of CO2 improve plant growth. Unfortunately, the combination of CO2 with drought makes plant growth a lot worse, which isn’t good news for agriculture. So how do plants adapt to dry environments? They use their roots to sense the environment, and adapt the roots to the needs of that environment. How well a plant can do that depends on the type of plant and its origin. The team of dr. Brady has investigated the roots of wild, drought resistant plants and compared them to their relatives used in agriculture. They found that for instance a wild tomato plant taken from a desert had developed an insulation layer in its roots, of material similar to cork. This layer prevented loss of water from the roots of the plants. Dr. Brady thinks that such adaptations are an interesting way forward to use in breeding programs for agricultural crops.

Prof. dr. Harro Bouwmeester and his team have studied the role of chemistry around the root systems on the growth of the plant and its response to the environment. Plants use chemicals such as acids to improve the uptake of nutrients from the soil. They also use hormones to stimulate special types of fungi which provide nitrogen to the plant. These hormones unfortunately also stimulate parasitic plants. Parasitic plants cause large yield losses to agricultural crops like sorghum, millet and maize, and are an increasing problem in Africa. The parasitic plants are abusing the hormone communication of the crops, especially in nutrient poor soils. Breeding crops in which these hormones aren’t produced at all solves the problem with the parasites, but unfortunately also affects plant growth. The team of prof. dr. Bouwmeester found that plants who are more resistant to parasites often have a slightly different hormone pattern from their relatives. This trait could be used in the development of new lines of parasite resistant crops.

After the intermission, a large crowd was ready to fire their questions at the two speakers. Simon Vink, our moderator of the evening, facilitated a lively Q&A session. During the evening we also enjoyed the musical contributions of 2MusE, who played a catchy mix of funk, jazz and latin. Appreciating the nice session of Science Café Wageningen, we would like to give you a warm invitation to our next session on “Artificial Intelligence: Rise of the thinking machines”. This session will be held Thursday 30th of March at café Loburg. The session will start at 20.15, with live music by the band Catch-22 from 19.45. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Exploring and discussing science with professionals, funky music and a drink.