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Does Interaction Technology through Human-Computer-Interaction direct our lives? 

Luciënne recently graduated from Interaction Technology with Cum Laude. For her graduation, she was rewarded a 9.5. Top class, of course! Before she could graduate Luciënne was faced with several choices: will it be Industrial Design, or rather Interaction Technology? Why she finally chose her MSc I-Tech and what her graduation project was about, you can read about in her story.

“We have become more dependent on technology. In I-Tech I learned both technical skills and the understanding of how these technological changes impact our lives.”
Luciënne de With, alumna Interaction Technology

After your bachelor's degree in Creative Technology, you completed a pre-master's degree at Industrial Design. However, after completing it you opted for the MSc programme Interaction Technology. What made you decide to do so? 

Luciënne: "When I graduated from Creative Technology, I didn't know exactly what I wanted and I-Tech didn't exist at that time, only its predecessor Human Media Interaction. I chose to do the pre-master Industrial Design Engineering because that had always been my plan when I came to UT. During the pre-master, however, I discovered that I missed programming and designing for the digital domain a lot. Industrial Design Engineering is more focused on physical products, while my interests lie in technological/digital products (e.g. apps, websites and VR applications. That's why I decided not to follow this master, but to do something else. I then did an internship at a company that makes VR applications for the construction industry. During this internship, I discovered once again how much I enjoy working on the interaction design of digital products. My internship ended in July. The new master's in Interaction Technology started in September. I could enrol immediately, because the Bachelor's programme Create I finished provides direct access to I-Tech. 

You have completed Interaction Technology. Can you explain what this programme has brought you? For example, how does the interaction between humans and computers change? Or which interactive technologies can you develop to meet (which) social needs? 

"I think that the I-Tech programme has provided me a good basis for future jobs. On the one hand, I have been able to expand my technical knowledge, for example about machine learning or virtual reality. On the other hand, I have also learned how to investigate whether the technology meets the needs of users and where there are areas for improvement. I think this is a very valuable combination. After all, technology is useless if nobody can or wants to use it."

"How does the interaction between man and computer change? If you ask me, the interaction between humans and computers is only increasing, but our understanding of it decreasing. Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone, all office jobs require a computer and VR and AR are increasingly used in the entertainment industry and for training (e.g. surgeons practicing a difficult operation). With good interaction design, we can ensure that these products are a real addition to our lives and make our lives easier, more efficient and, above all, more fun. I think my thesis is perhaps the best example of how technology can be used to meet a societal need," Luciënne says.

That sounds interesting, can you explain what your thesis was about?

"The title of my thesis is "Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy to detect a fear of heights response to a virtual reality environment". Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a technology with which we can measure whether there is an activation in the brain. I took these measurements with people while they were standing in virtual reality on a tall building. I then used various machine learning algorithms to see to what extent we can detect and predict fear responses based on the brain data. This turned out reasonably well, the best algorithm was right in about 77% of the cases, even though this kind of research has never been done before. The underlying idea is that you can apply this in a real therapy setting. Virtual reality is increasingly being used to expose people to their fears in a safe and controlled way. This way, people can learn how to deal with their fears. During this therapy, it is important to keep an eye on how the client is doing, but this is relatively difficult if the client wears VR glasses (after all, you cannot see the facial expressions). Therefore, it would be of added value if the computer could give us, based on the measurements of the brain, an indication of how scared the client is, as a kind of extra measurement. 

I found this assignment extremely interesting. That's not surprising, because I came up with the assignment myself. The nice thing about this assignment was that I was able to combine a lot of my knowledge I learned from I-Tech in just one project. I was able to combine my knowledge of virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces and machine learning, all of which I studied during my master's. My supervisor awarded my graduation research a 9.5, which allowed me to graduate Cum Laude." Luciënne smiles proudly.

Graduated!

You often hear that Artificial Intelligence, Interactive Systems and Human-Computer-Interaction are becoming increasingly important. are we going to live a computer-controlled life sooner than we might think? and how would such a life look like?

Luciënne: "Interactive systems are (simply put) systems where there is an interaction between man and computer, often to achieve a certain goal. But it can also be intended for entertainment. Examples of interactive systems we use everyday life are the self-service checkout in the supermarket, your phone, the ATM, the infotainment system of a car. I think for some people technology plays a bigger role in their lives than they realise. There are many examples, of which I will mention a few. First of all, if you want to know something, most people search directly through Google instead of going to the local library. Of course, that makes sense because Google usually provides a quicker answer to your question. Secondly, during the COVID19 period, we maintained contact via our telephone with people we see a lot less. Third, if you need to go somewhere you can use Google maps or another route planner. This planner can calculate the quickest route for you based on real-time data about traffic volume and diversions. Lastly, athletes keep track of their performance using data collected by sensors. For example, the GPS of their phone and the heart rate monitor of a smartwatch. Training courses are adjusted accordingly. And there are many more examples to come up with."

"The examples mentioned above show that we have become very dependent on technology.", Luciënne continues. "It has made our lives a lot easier and more efficient. So we already have a more computer-controlled life than we might think. Partly due to the incredibly well-designed human-computer interaction of some of these systems, we don't know how dependent we are on them. I think that I-Tech can do a lot in terms of designing the best possible human-computer interaction, also for future technologies and systems. That, of course, is literally what we learn in the master's programme. Nevertheless, I also think that we must make people aware of how dependent they are on technology and to what extent certain systems are safe or not. Instead of just focusing on the 'seamless integration' of technology in everyday life. As far as I am concerned, we should also make our users aware of the ethical aspects of certain technologies."

Now you have your MSc degree in Interaction Technology. Have you already thought of life after UT? 

"Yes, I will soon start working at DSW (a health insurer) as a UI/UX designer. I had already applied when I was still studying and they wanted me to come work for them after I had finished my studies. I'm looking forward to working there! I don't dare to say exactly what the future will look like. I won't see myself doing the same work until I retire, but I believe that, thanks to I-Tech, I have a good foundation, even for the changes that may come. While looking for a job, I noticed that there is interest in people who can look at things from different perspectives. We live in a world where technology is becoming more important. However, it is also important to ensure that we continue to deal with this technology and understand how these changes impact our lives. Their added value, but also possible threats. As a Creative Technologist, you are an expert on this. Also, I noticed that companies are extremely interested in my broad orientation and hands-on experience in certain areas. In my opinion, most important when landing a new job is showing that you mastered many different techniques and that you can learn others quickly. With my experience from I-Tech and the internship, I noticed that was a good thing" Luciënne laughs.

What would you often (want to) think back to when you think about your time at the UT? 

Luciënne: "When I think back on my time at University of Twente, the campus immediately pops up. I enormously enjoyed the freedom and nature on the campus. Besides, there is always something to do on campus and many students are active in associations. When I think back on that, I immediately think of my own sports club Messed Up. It's great that you have so many opportunities to practice different kinds of sports on campus. It is easy to make new contacts and you never have to get bored. Furthermore, I enjoyed working during the Open Days. In all, I'm going to miss the social life on campus, but hopefully, I can visit it once in a while.“ 

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