Meike Nauta wins Overijssel PhD Award 2023

The 2023 Overijssel PhD Award goes to Meike Nauta who researched explainable artificial intelligence for her PhD. The award will be presented during the Dies Natalis, the 62nd anniversary of the University of Twente.

Artificial intelligence has become an integral part of our society, but too often computer models still work like a so-called black box. Information goes in and information comes out, but what exactly happens in between - inside the model - is unclear. That is why Nauta conducted research into methods for artificial intelligence to explain decisions itself.


"For many applications, knowing whether the model uses the right reasoning to arrive at a particular prediction is important. With explainable AI, questions like 'What did the model learn?' and 'How does the model arrive at such a prediction?' can be answered," says Nauta. Nauta developed a new model called ProtoTree. ProtoTree is a computer model that recognises images of two hundred bird species.

Guess Who?

What is new about the model is that it simultaneously explains how it came to a decision. The model looks at a picture as if playing a kind of "Guess Who?". It looks for matching physical characteristics of a bird species - for example, in the presence of a red breast, a black wing and a black stripe near the eye, it recognises a Vermilion flycatcher. This way, a human can also track how the model arrives at a particular prediction.

Her dissertation was full of good examples of explainable artificial intelligence and its necessity. Nauta summarised it during her defence: "Power to the people without losing the power of AI." Nauta made a promising start to her career with her PhD. She currently works for Datacation. During her PhD trajectory, she already won several awards and has been in the media several times.

Overijssel PhD award

The Overijssel PhD award is an annual award given to a thesis of exceptional academic quality. Each UT faculty and research institute can nominate a thesis. The prize is co-sponsored by the Province of Overijssel and confers a cash prize of €5000 and a certificate.

K.W. Wesselink - Schram MSc (Kees)
Science Communication Officer (available Mon-Fri)