Monday 7 November 2022
Michael: ‘Janet, tell me. Where are you from?’
Janet: ‘Well, Michael, actually it is a hard question to answer. Can I say I have a global heart, haha? My husband, my son and I are real globetrotters. I was born in China and later became an Australian; my husband is German; my son travelled five countries before he came to the world. I’ve lived and worked in Sydney for the past ten years and spent quite some time in Oxford, Stockholm and Stuttgart. No we are here in the Netherlands. We currently live in Lonneker, a small town close to the border. My son speaks English, German, Chinese, and a little Dutch. We love to travel – we’re always inspired by local cultures.’
Michael: ‘What a wonderful mindset! I’m working on diversity and inclusion at UT. And being genuinely curious about the other – that’s the key. How can we further improve this at UT?’
Janet: ‘I’m in the advisory group on internationalisation at UT. As someone with hands-on experience, I hope to contribute a bit to this. What I like is that UT puts efforts to include employees and students. In policy, but also in action. I love this environment and vibe. I also loved the Diversity Week we had recently. I’ve only been here a short time, but I already feel at home.’
Michael: ‘Good to hear, Janet. Something else; my parents are from Indonesia and food is very important in our culture. Personally, I also believe that eating together fosters connection. What’s your favourite cuisine?’
Janet: ‘Wherever I go – I always want to taste the local food. And then I add that to my favourites. If I’d have to pick one cuisine, it would be Italian. I love pasta and pizza. When I cook for myself, it always turns out to be a fusion of what I have in the fridge. As a Chinese-German-Australian family, we’re a nice mix. And our kitchen reflects that.'
Michael: ‘That’s great; you’re making me hungry. I'm not that technical myself – can you explain what you do at UT? On my way home yesterday, I saw the Advanced Manufacturing Centre. Are you involved in that?’
Janet: ‘Absolutely. That building you saw will be our new office for Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for Advanced Manufacturing, or FIP in short. The building is still under construction and will be ready next year. On the shop floor, you can see robotics assemble packages in a production line. Companies can see and test how machines work before investing in innovative technology. They can also get technical advice from our engineers there.
From Mondays to Thursdays, my job can be described as Research and Development at FIP, ET faculty. Part of my work consists of technology audits and helping companies in the manufacturing industry with their digital transformation. Companies often are constrained by their own problems. They need independent research and external expertise to have a clear road map and maintain competitive. Then together with my colleagues, we develop a more focused research project. Our research is backed up with scientific evidence and demonstrates technical solutions. Industry 5.0 is not just about investing in new machines or new digital systems, but especially about how to incorporate technology in a way that companies truly benefit from digitalisation, in a more human-centric and sustainable approach.
On Fridays I’m a researcher at BMS. In essence, I’m researching the social impact of AI, such as AI skills. Technology can – if we use it properly – make the world more inclusive and fairer. My personal mission is that everyone – young and old, rich and poor, anywhere in the world, especially vulnerable groups – can reap the benefits of artificial intelligence.’
Michael: ‘You have a nice mission! Are there any drawbacks to artificial intelligence that we should be aware of?’
Janet: ‘Absolutely. One thing is what I call algorithmic vulnerability. For example, you can use algorithm to select candidates automatically based on defined profiles. But those algorithms are often designed out of context. This allows you to inadvertently exclude groups, such as people with a different background. So you have to think carefully about how you use algorithms and interpret data in a context. In other words: we’ll always have to use our own intelligence in addition to artificial intelligence. This requires not only technical expertise, but also social-ethical knowledge. You can shape the future with technology. The question is: what kind of future do we want?’
Michael: ‘What do you think about the use of data when you think of the big hack?’
Janet: ‘I don't think we should discourage people from using technology. On the contrary. We must embrace its benefits. We’re used to pinning our hopes on the moral compass of those in power: big tech players and governments. We can now say that this doesn’t work sufficiently: our ecosystem is quite out of balance. But it’s our job to reshape the balance.
I think we need to turn the tide. That starts from the bottom up. Like said, my mission is that new technology should help everyone. Regardless of where you come from, where you live or whether you are physically or mentally healthy. If everyone gets a voice of interest, we can bring the system back into balance.’
Michael: ‘I’d like to applaud you – I'm breathless listening to you! Tell me: what do you do when you’re not working?’
Janet: ‘My husband and I like to go hiking, and Lonneker is a nice place for that – so is the campus. I love going outside whenever I can. To recharge or clear my head. When you experience space around you, your mental space also expands. I always feel that way when I face the ocean, or lie under a starry sky. This gives room to think about life's questions. You don't get around to that in everyday life.’
Michael: ‘What kind of questions are those?’
Janet: ‘I often think: what kind of person do I want to be? How do I want to live my life? Those questions come back to me every so often. I reflect a lot. Over the time, I often find different answers. It is interesting to listen to yourself and discover new self.’
Michael: ‘Where will you be in five years?’
Janet: ‘I'm really enjoying myself here now, at UT and in Enschede. Even though I've only been here a short time, I already have many good friends here. Everyone is so helpful! So for the next few years, I'll be putting a lot of effort in developing new projects in AI and helping the industry. Locally, but also internationally.’
Michael: ‘I would love to link AI to my HR work one day.’
Janet: ‘That would be very interesting! I have my personal experience of course, but I have also seen many challenges in companies with an international workforce. The added value of this seems obvious to everyone, and yet things do not go well on their own. We probably have plenty to discuss about that. Preferably over a warm bowl of pasta!’