David Graus

In defense of algorithms

I am a Data Scientist at the FD Mediagroup with a PhD in information retrieval and natural language processing from the University of Amsterdam.

At the FD Mediagroup (probably best known for newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad and radio BNR) I work for Company.info—a portal with company information and business news from all organizations in the Netherlands. Projects I worked on include automated entity linking with a custom knowledge base, multi-label classification for automatic sector (industry) classification of organizations, predictive models for financial data, and content-based recommender systems.

I have a PhD degree from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), where I worked under supervision of Maarten de Rijke at the Information and Language Processing Systems Group (ILPS). I defended my thesis “Entities of Interest — Discovery in Digital Traces” in June 2017. In the summer of 2015 I interned at Microsoft Research in Redmond, under supervision of Paul Bennett, Ryen White, and Eric Horvitz, on analyzing Cortana user-interaction logs. In the winter of 2014 I was a visitor to Doug Oard‘s E-Discovery Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Algorithms aren’t evil (people can be, though)

I have a strong opinion on matters involving filter bubbles, algorithmic discrimination, and the general fear (and misunderstanding) of AI and machine learning, in particular in the context of personalization, search engines, and recommender systems. I think it’s important that computer scientists are involved in the public debate too, and in that context I have written and spoken on these topics in mainstream media for the general public—which I try to continue to do. Some things I am particularly proud of:

  1. An article on why it’s a good thing algorithms aren’t neutral, written with Maarten de Rijke, published in NRC Handelsblad and nrc.next.
  2. An appearance on TV in “Denktank,” a program for youngsters, where I nuance the worries around algorithms and algorithmic personalization.
  3. A layman’s talk on how and where algorithms affect us in daily life for a debate night themed “The power of algorithms” at De Balie in Amsterdam.
  4. A keynote I’ve given at an (internal) event of the Royal Marechaussee (Dutch Military Police) where I discussed the possibilities and pitfalls of “big data.”

In general, if you ever need someone to bring some nuance to the fear of algorithms and personalization, I’d be happy to help. It seems to me there’s not many of us, in the current The-Circle-meets-Black-Mirror-day and age where the prevailing opinions seems to be that of fear and worries towards technology (it may be my bubble, however).

Science communication

I combined my background as a science editor (see below) with my work as a computer scientist during my PhD, by writing short articles about our group’s publications for the general public, in collaboration with the communications department of the University of Amsterdam. By translating papers into (near-)human language, we increased the exposure of our research group, I could flex my writing muscles, and more generally fulfilled our duty of informing the public of the work we do. I published several articles, some of which gained (inter)national coverage on tech sites, newspapers and magazines. See for example:

  1. New method supplements Wikipedia with Twitter topics (also appeared on Tweakers.net, DeMorgen.be, Emerce, z24.nl)
  2. Improved predictions of queries by search engines
  3. New method helps Google Translate translate better (also appeared in NewScientist)

Academic background

I have a background in Humanities, and obtained my Media and Culture Bachelor of Arts at the University of Amsterdam in 2008. After a brief period of work and travel, in 2009 I started my MSc Media Technology at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Sciences, at Leiden Universiteit. In 2012, I graduated with a project involving semantic annotation and network visualization. I actively blogged about my MSc thesis, which arguably played a significant role in finding my PhD position at the University of Amsterdam.

Professional experience

I used to work in the media. I’ve worked for Dutch broadcasting company NTR (formerly Teleac, former-formerly Teleac/NOT) for several years as an editor for radio and online science programs. There I gained experience in a wide array of editorial tasks such as writing (news) items, preparing interviews, but also with several aspects of audiovisual media production, like (video) editing, animating, and the recording of our daily science program in the studio.

What else?

I further possess basic skills in graphic- and web-design, having built several websites for several people, creating thesis covers for my friends. I like to take pictures with my camera, which you can witness on Flickr or Instagram (@instagraus). Just like the rest of the world I like to travel, read books, watch films and listen to music.