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Solving sustainability issues with AI

What’s the most effective way of watering agricultural crops? How can we store renewable energy carriers such as hydrogen? Should municipalities really be closing certain roads in order to reduce local air pollution? The answers to these kinds of questions tend to be hidden in large volumes of data: an ideal challenge for computer scientists with a specialisation in artificial intelligence.

Utrecht University launched a new lab this year in an effort to capitalise on these developments: the AI & Sustainability Lab. Collaboration with computer scientists could revitalise our approach to several long-standing issues, argues dean of the Faculty of Geosciences and lab co-founder Wilco Hazeleger. ‘We use a lot of statistical methods in our research and there are obviously ‘geoinformaticians’ — scientists with a special interest in computer science’, he explains. ‘Still, the field of artificial intelligence offers so much more valuable expertise that can help us improve our research.’ Conversely, AI also offers added value for the geosciences. AI Labs Director Thomas Dohmen: ‘The geosciences are facing some very challenging questions involving various types of data, and our computer scientists are ready to take them on. This will contribute to the evolution of our field and other disciplines — the knowledge we’re developing here also tends to have broader applications.’

Several energy companies, municipalities, tech companies and consultancies have expressed interest in joining the lab. The initiators also encourage other interested parties to get in touch. Dohmen: ‘Anyone facing a challenging sustainability issue is welcome to come on board.’

National AI Police Lab

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Sifting through millions of gigabytes of data on a seized smartphone with the click of a button. Analysing police reports in a fraction of the time. It’s all possible with Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, the police will need state-of the-art knowledge in order to use this technology safely. This led to the establishment of the National Police Artificial Intelligence Lab (NPAI) in January 2019: a partnership between the Dutch police and several universities, including UU. The Police Lab aims to develop state-of-the-art AI technologies that will improve safety in the Netherlands in a socially, legally and ethically responsible manner.

Many UU PhD candidates and alumni are involved in the research activities of the Utrecht-based Police Lab. These include Bas Testerink. As an AI Scientist, he helps to bridge the gap between science and the realities of day-to-day policework. His team works to improve existing systems and identify future AI applications for the police. Their ultimate goal: Making the Netherlands a safer place. ‘It’s great to have an immediate impact on the world around you.’

Want to know more about this and other Utrecht AI Labs? Click here