First national conference for ELSA Labs: a successful forum for knowledge exchange

Published on: 10 December 2022

The importance of a human-centric approach to AI

The first edition of the national ELSA Labs conference on 1 December 2022 presented developments from the ELSA Labs nationwide as well as related international ELSA activities. There was also a glimpse into the future, aimed at sharing knowledge, networking and making connections between the current set of 22 ELSA Labs.

The task for the future

The ELSA Labs had been invited by the Netherlands AI Coalition to share their understandings and look at the common task for the future, each from the perspective of their own theme. Numerous relevant topics from and for the ELSA Labs came to the fore in some engaging lectures.  The ELSA Labs are extremely important for the development and application of human-centric AI. That conclusion was confirmed after this first edition of the conference, organised by the Brightlands AI Hub together with AiNed, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Netherlands AI Coalition and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus.

Start of the ELSA Poverty and Debt Lab

The Brightlands AI Hub is also the home base for the ELSA Poverty and Debt Lab. During the conference, that ELSA Lab was also officially opened by Christel Olivers of the Digital Government management board of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Beforehand, Professor Lisa Brüggen of Maastricht University gave an introduction about the ELSA Poverty and Debt Lab: “I’m both pleased and proud that our ELSA Lab has now been officially opened. Over a million people in the Netherlands – including 251,000 children – live below the poverty line and about 8% of the population have debt issues. Together with a large group of partners, we’re committed to exploring whether and how AI can help prevent and fight poverty and debt in an ethical, legal and socially responsible way.”

A forum for knowledge exchange

During the programme, various topics were discussed under the guidance of moderator Emile Aarts, who initiated the development of the ELSA Labs. Following the opening by Astrid Boeijen, CEO of the Brightlands Smart Services Campus, Professor Vincent Blok of Wageningen University made a contribution bridging the gap between the ELSA Labs’ field of work on the one hand and the possibilities provided by innovative technology on the other. Rianne Letschert, president of Maastricht University, emphasised the impact of the ELSA Labs.

Interactive programme

During panel discussions and presentations by national and international ELSA Labs, speakers and attendees took a long and detailed look at future developments and what impact is envisaged. There was plenty of scope for discussing everyone’s latest insights and for networking. The inspiring contributions from several Belgian and German labs showed that there is also fertile ground for this approach internationally.

The ELSA approach

A highlight was the presentation of the NL AIC publication ‘Ethics  AI – Seven methods in theory and practice‘ by Daniel Tijink of the Human-Centric AI working group of the Netherlands AI Coalition. This was followed by Willem Jonker, chair of the AiNed board, giving a presentation on the purpose and coherence of the AiNed programme and discussing a new call for proposals from NWO for the ELSA Labs, which is expected to start by the end of the first quarter of 2023. In conclusion, the ELSA representatives exchanged information about the themes and their approaches through various posters.

European goals

Emile Aarts: “All the ELSA Labs particularly appreciated meeting each other in real life and exchanging knowledge. It was a unique opportunity to use this community of ELSA Labs to exchange thoughts and to look for possibilities for cooperation or extend existing ones. Both nationally and internationally, people are very much ready to work together and learn from each other’s experiences, which helps scale up and accelerate the development of human-centric AI. We decided that we want to meet up again and exchange results at a European summit of ELSA Labs.”

The ELSA Labs networking project

The ELSA Poverty and Debt Lab takes the total number of labs funded by the Dutch government to six. The first five ELSA Labs started in early 2022 with funding from the NWA call for ‘Human-centric AI for an inclusive society’ launched by NWO and the Netherlands AI Coalition. Those labs were brought together and received funding as a network project for ELSA Labs that is being led by Mirjam Plantinga and Maurice Groten. This project will bundle together the insights from the various ELSA Labs from January this year  onwards, allowing research findings to be generalised and solutions scaled up. A blueprint for ELSA Labs is also being developed.   [M1]bron zegt “next year”, maar daar zijn we nu al…


If you were unable to attend the national ELSA Labs conference, you will be able to review it; the link will be attached to this message. If you would like to know more about the ELSA concept, please go to this page. It also contains an overview of all the ELSA Labs.   [M1]wrsch nu al? vertaling is wat later….

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