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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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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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On Friday 22 January Gerard Smit (CTO for IBM Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and Prof. Hubertus Irth (Vice Dean and Research Director of the Vrije Universiteit Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and Faculty of Sciences) officially launched the collaboration between the IBM Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC) and the VU Faculty of Sciences. In the event students of the Watson Innovation course pitched their projects to a mixed crowd of students, scientists, engineers and business clients.

In the Watson Innovation course, students used Watson to answer questions about Amsterdam, for which Amsterdam Marketing provided the data and use case. The app LocalBuddy was selected as winner, and the students received a prize for their achievements by Amsterdam Marketing.

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Today the students of the first Watson Innovation course by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and IBM Netherlands presented their group work at the VU Intertain Lab. Representatives from Amsterdam Marketing and IBM Netherlands were present to evaluate the ideas, applications and business plans of the groups. The groups have been working on their Watson powered apps since last November, using the Watson Engagement Advisor and IBM Bluemix. The most interesting project groups will be selected to present their work again next Friday at IBM.

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Today Lora Aroyo presented the first lecture of the Watson Innovation course at the Vrije Universiteit. The topic of the lecture was Cognitive Computing, IBM Watson and looking inside the mind of Watson. There was a high attendance of motivated bachelor and master students with various backgrounds, such as artificial intelligence, computer science, business administration, business analytics and information sciences. We are looking forward to see them develop their ideas with Watson.

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Want to learn about IBM Watson and cognitive computing? Sign up for the Watson Innovation course! The Watson Innovation course is a unique collaboration between the Vrije Universiteit and IBM, in which experts teach you all about cognitive computing and IBM Watson. You will learn how this artificial intelligence system is capable of answering questions from big data, and work in a joint team of Computer Science and Business Students with some of the latest technology.

Have you ever wondered how we could provide tourists in Amsterdam with the best experience? Now is your chance to develop ideas, business cases and real prototypes of Watson to answer all questions tourists have. Visit the course description page to find out all the details.

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Our research group received several awards at the IBM Extreme Blue Expo 2015. In this event, an array of speakers from IBM, Academia and the startup community presented their latest findings. The Shared University Research Award was granted to the Web & Media group of the VU University Amsterdam. This award is a global initiative by IBM to stimulate science and the collaboration between IBM and scientists. Furthermore, Lora Aroyo received a faculty award for her work on our project CrowdTruth, and Anca Dumitrache reveived a PhD Fellowship award for her work on medical relation extraction.

As part of the shared university research award we received access to the Watson Engagement Advisor Research platform, which will be used for collaborative research on methods for the training and evaluation of IBM Watson. In the upcoming months we will jointly host a Watson innovation course for students and Watson masterclasses for professionals. More info will follow on this at a later stage.