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Catholijn Jonker


When the computing revolution erupted at the end of the 1950s, (electro)mechanical technologies saw themselves being replaced by their fully-digital counterparts. Throughout this revolution, it was often thought that the novel digital electronics had the potential to completely take over human tasks. Moreover, it was equally believed that this potential should be pursued.

In his 1960 book ‘Man-Computer Symbiosis’, computer scientist Joseph Licklider believed such theorists were mistaken. Rather than pursuing computers to think completely on their own, he argued that it would be much more fruitful to bring humans and computers in, indeed, a ‘man-computer symbiosis’: “[In] not too many years, human brains and machines will be coupled very tightly”. As he stated, the sensible goal was to create an ambiance in which humans and machines “[cooperated] in making decisions”. This vision of augmented intelligence, seeing computers complement humans rather than replace them, remains triumphant up to this day. Indeed, it is still believed that humans and computers working in partnership are more powerful than an artificial intelligence computer working on its own.

The philosophy of man-computer symbiosis is exactly the theme of Dutch computer scientist Catholijn Jonker as well. Upon her appointment as a full Professor of Interactive Intelligence at the University of Delft in 2008, her inaugural speech was loud and clear: partnership between humans and computers is paramount. She demonstrated this with one of the centrepieces of her work: the Pocket Negotiator, being equally discussed in the abovementioned speech. The Pocket Negotiator is an intelligent - and currently the only - support system for decision-making in complex situations. Catholijn, whose responsibility is the software for this system, explains that it aims to see robots and humans working closely together in a way the former can supplement the latter in making informed decisions in democratic processes.

Currently, with the ongoing research project ‘Compaan’ at the University of Delft, Catholijn continues to establish man-computer symbiosis. It aims to create ‘a smart participation hub for the optimal use of the synergy between human and artificial intelligence to support policymaking’. Simultaneously, Catholijn continues to develop GENIUS, which is the internationally most used platform to support research into negotiation mechanism and agents. Moreover, before settling down in Delft, Catholijn has been (associate) Professor of Artificial Intelligence in both Amsterdam as Nijmegen. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Catholijn takes pride in promoting diversity in higher academic ranks, advocating the inclusion of - among others - members of the LGBT collective, women and people of different ethnic groups.

Catholijn Jonker


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