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On 9th of June we are organising a Coffee & Data event with the Amsterdam Data Science community. The topic is “How to deal with controversy, bias, quality and opinions on the Web” and will be organised in the context of the COMMIT ControCurator project. In this project VU and UvA computer scientists and humanities researchers investigate jointly the computational modeling of controversial issues on the Web, and explore its application within real use cases in existing organisational pipelines, e.g. Crowdynews and Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

The Agenda is as follows:

09:00-09:10 Coffee

Introduction & Chair by Lora Aroyo, Full Professor at the Web & Media group (VU, Computer Science)

09:10 – 09:25: Gerben van Eerten – Crowdynews deploying ControCurator

09:25 – 09:40: Kaspar Beelen – Detecting Controversies in Online News Media (UvA, Faculty of Humanities)

09:40 – 09:50: Benjamin Timmermans – Understanding Controversy Using Collective Intelligence (VU, Computer Science)

09:50 – 10:00: Davide Ceolin – (VU, Computer Science)

10:00 – 10:15: Damian Trilling – (UvA, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences)

10:15 – 10:30: Daan Oodijk (Blendle)

10:30 – 10:45: Andy Tanenbaum – “Unskewed polls” in 2012

10:45 – 11:00: Q&A Coffee

The event takes place at the Kerkzaal (HG-16A00) on the top floor of the VU Amsterdam main building.

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As I am study advisor for the international students, I am also responsible for immigrants that study Computer Science bachelor at the Vrije Universiteit. In order to provide these future students with a clear picture of what they can expect, I gave a presentation about Computer Science, our program at the University, and things they should take into account as (international) students.

The presentation is available below, which is based on slides of Wan Fokkink. If you are an immigrant and would like to study Computer Science at the VU, you should get in touch with VASVU for a preparation year or visit the Computer Science website.

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Last week I gave another talk in our Weekly AI meeting on the topic of ControCurator. This is a project that I am currently working on, which has the goal to enable the discovery and understanding of controversial issues and events by combining human-machine active learning workflows.

In this talk I went into the different aspects of controversies, which we have identified in this project. You can view the slides here:

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Our ControCurator paper abstract titled “ControCurator: Understanding Controversy Using Collective Intelligence” has been accepted at Collective Intelligence 2017. In this paper we describe the aspects of controversy: the time-persistence, emotion, multiple actors, polarity and openness. Using crowdsourcing, the ControCurator dataset of 31888 controversy annotations was obtained for the relevance of these aspects to 5048 Guardian articles. The results indicate that each of these aspects is a positive indicator of controversy, but also that there is a clear difference in their signal strength. Most notably, the emotion was found to be the highest indicator. Though, all the measured controversy aspects were found to positively correlate with controversy. These results suggest that the controversy model is accurate and useful for modeling controversy in news articles.

The full dataset with controversy annotations is available for download at

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Our demo of ControCurator titled “ControCurator: Human-Machine Framework For Identifying Controversy” will be shown at ICT Open 2017. In this demo the ControCurator human-machine framework for identifying controversy in multimodal data is shown. The goal of ControCurator is to enable modern information access systems to discover and understand controversial topics and events by bringing together crowds and machines in a joint active learning workflow for the creation of adequate training data. This active learning workflow allows a user to identify and understand controversy in ongoing issues, regardless of whether there is existing knowledge on the topic.

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Yesterday at the Computable Awards the Vrije Universiteit, University of Amsterdam and IBM won the prize for “ICT project of the year in education” with the Watson Innovation Course. Furthermore, the project was highest rated across all nominees of all prize categories. The course is ongoing at the moment for the second time, with an improved setup and new state of the art tools for the students.

The course is run by Lora Aroyo, Anca Dumitrache, Benjamin Timmermans and Oana Inel from the VU, and Robert-Jan Sips and Zoltan Szlavik from IBM. In the course the students were challenged by Amsterdam Marketing to solve the issue of the increasing overcrowdedness of tourists in the city center of Amsterdam. The city is culturally rich with many places to visit, yet most visitors cluster around a limited set of popular locations. The students came up with ideas to motivate visitors to spread in the city and provide them with relevant information for their visit.


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Today I gave a talk in our Weekly AI meeting on the topic of ControCurator. This is a project that I am currently working on, which has the goal to enable the discovery and understanding of controversial issues and events by combining human-machine active learning workflows.

In the talk I explained the issue of defining the space of a controversy, and how this relates to for instance wicked problems. You can see the slides below.

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Brainstem tumors are a rare form of childhood cancer for which there is currently no cure. The Semmy Foundation aims to increase the survival of children with this type of cancer by supporting scientific research. The Center for Advanced Studies at IBM Netherlands is supporting this research by developing a cognitive system that allows doctors and researchers to quicker analyse MRI-scans and better detect anomalies in the brainstem.

In order to gather training data, a crowdsourcing event was held at the festival Lowlands, which is a 3-day music festival that took place from 19-21 August 2016 and welcomed 55k visitors. At the science fair, IBM had a booth that hosted both this research and showcase of the Weather stations of the Tahmo project with TU Delft.


In the crowdsourcing task, the participants were asked to draw the shape of the brainstem and tumor in an MRI scan. Gathering data on whether a particular layer of a scan contains the brainstem and determining its size should allow a classifier to recognize the tumors. Furthermore, the annotator quality can be measured with the CrowdTruth methodology by analysing the precision of the edges that were drawn in relation to their alcohol and drug use that we collected. The hypothesis is that people under influence can still make valuable contributions, but that these are of lower quality than sober people. This may make the reliability of online crowd workers more clear, because it is unknown under what conditions they make their annotations.


The initial results in the heatmap of drawn pixels give an indication of the overall location of the brainstem, but further analysis will follow on the individual scans in order to measure the worker quality and generating 3d models.

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From 2 to 16th of July we organized the Big Data in Society Summerschool at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. As part of our Collaborative Innovation Center with IBM, we presented an introduction of the technical and theoretical underpinnings of IBM Watson and discussed the use of big data and implications for society. We looked at examples of how the original Watson system can be adapted to new domains and tasks, and presented the CrowdTruth approach for gathering training and evaluation data in this context. The participating students, which ranged from bachelor to PhD level, said they learned a lot from the lectures and found the practical hands-on sessions very useful.