Universiteit Leiden

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Trust me, I’m a university

Technology and privacy, trust and mistrust. A discussion about this broke out when the University installed scanners and students protested. On Wednesday 2 February experts from Leiden University will explore this topic at the eponymous symposium. We called Roy de Kleijn, as a computer scientist and psychologist an expert on the problems between humans and machines. And a speaker at the symposium.

What are you going to talk about on Wednesday?

‘My contribution as a computer scientist and psychologist is about people’s problems with technology. My research fields are cognitive robotics and artificial intelligence and how humans deal with these.’

What do you want people to realise?

‘Simple: that trust is the key. That is what the acceptance of new technology boils down to. The discussion about the scanners at the University is a good example of that. People were worried about their privacy. What can be made public and what cannot.’

I assume you followed the scanner issues with more than average interest. What do you think about the scanners yourself?

‘I’m not that bothered by this kind of smart camera. I thought it was a bit of a storm in a teacup. But some people really do find it invasive. And others are scared of the slippery slope, as in: first it’s cameras that count and then it’s keyboards. These are legitimate concerns and questions.’

So it’s a good idea to hold a symposium about this?

‘Definitely. You show you’re willing to discuss the matter. The question is whether it needed to get this far. If you only want to count people, why buy cameras that can do more? Then you have to take the University at face value. I do believe the argument that other systems like infrared and wifi aren’t as precise, but do they need to be so precise if what you’re measuring is how busy an area is. Why not a simpler system that can’t be abused. A clicker, for instance. Back to basics. That’s something people do trust.’

How does trust work?

You have to feel you can trust the manufacturer of the technology and the regulator because that’s something we can’t check. This begins with a proper explanation. Why does the University think it needs really smart cameras? You also have to be transparent about how the technology works. People have to know how such cameras work and what happens with the data. We also see something of a paradox here: trust in technology drops in people who know very little about the system and in people who know a great deal about the technology.

And the middle ground is open to new technology – as long as it is explained properly?

Well, we see that older people have more trust in technology than young people. We don’t know why this is. Maybe because older people have a different experience of automation. That their frame of reference is different. All in all, people still have more trust in people. Algorithms are better at making predictions about the weather, recovery after illness, recidivism, detecting tumours on radiology scans... It’s really quite impressive. But people still prefer to have a human, even in areas where algorithms do better.

Text: Marijn Kramp
Stockfoto ID:1300182982

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