Let’s talk about it: reflecting on the campus

december 16, 2018

Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen is buzzing. Researchers, students, start-ups, established entrepreneurs: they are all fully committed to new technologies, blockchain, artificial intelligence and big data. But does this also leave time for reflection? Are we all not just running fast, but also heading in the right direction? This will be the main question during the New Year’s event on January 15, in Heerlen. 

Brightlands Smart Services Campus is the place where hundreds of specialists from all over the world are working on the transition to the next level of digitalization. Founded by Maastricht University, pension management organization, APG and the Province of Limburg, the campus was founded with the mission of making the world better through digital technology. 

Putting things in perspective won’t exactly be met with pomp and circumstance here. With his background at APG and now affiliated with the campus in an advisory capacity, Marc Wouters (photo) smiles. “I hadn’t noticed,” he says. “I believe reflection is part of this campus’ development process. We have experienced substantial growth in a short period of time. Initiatives follow one another at a rapid pace, concrete results are being achieved and our founders are satisfied.


This is precisely the right time to take a step back to see exactly where we are right now, to hold a mirror up to ourselves. I have even noticed that many researchers and entrepreneurs have a need for this. It’s always worthwhile to ask ourselves how our innovations are helping society, and if we are satisfying our campus objectives.”


This was the motivation that prompted Marc Wouters to launch the idea of a New Year’s event with inspiring speakers entitled “Let’s talk about it”, supported by a paper he wrote at his own initiative in which he briefly takes stock of the Brightlands Smart Services Campus’ first years. “They have been successful years,” he says, “during which the campus more than fulfilled its role as a field lab in the data science sector. It’s amazing to see the power of attraction the campus exerts on mathematicians, developers, designers and IT professionals. Young and established entrepreneurs come here to elaborate on their ideas; after all, the campus has the data specialists and major parties it needs to elevate research to a higher plane. They are working on new technology here such as blockchain. Digitalization and robotics tend to define the day-to-day activities.”


Have there been any concrete results? “Definitely. An app has been developed, for example, which helps ships use less fuel, therefore contributing to CO2 reduction. The pension management organizations APG and PGGM are developing new methods to facilitate an easier dialog with retirees and to encourage people to not to wait too long to start thinking about their retirement plans. Various projects have been started for smart health care. And successful hackathons have been held, giving rise to new projects.”

These are all examples of how technology has a clearly positive effect on society. “Exactly,” Marc Wouters continues. “And this is the basic premise behind the campus in Heerlen. Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves though if all these new inventions have the positive effect we had in mind? Every concrete step does have effects which you might not have thought of ahead of time. This is something we have to be prepared for. All of the digital technology as a whole is changing society, and is being debated in so many ways and in so many places. Won’t robotics cost people their jobs? Is Uber really good for the economy? Isn’t society deteriorating, with everyone trapped behind their screens and in zeros and ones? You tell me - I don’t have a monopoly on wisdom.”


So who does? Everyone and no one, according to Marc Wouters. This is why he wants to fire the starting shot to this discussion at the event on January 15, with as many participants as possible at and around the campus. “It’s about realization, thinking about what we do and the kind of effect it has. It has to be part of the culture of this campus. It makes us stronger.”

Event on january 15

Two speakers will be appearing to get the discussions going: Sally Watt, professor of Digital Cultures at Maastricht University, and Geert Mul, media artist. Both take a different view of digital technology and can enrich the views of technologists and builders.

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15 January 2019, 16:00h

Start of a dialogue on technology and society

keynote speakers:

Peter Verkoulen
CEO Brightlands Smart Services Campus

Sally Wyatt
Professor of Digital Cultures
Maastricht University

Geert Mul
Media artist