Remembering Maarten van Someren

Last week, while abroad, I received the very sad news that Maarten van Someren passed away. Maarten was one of the core teachers and AI researchers at Universiteit van Amsterdam for 36 years and for many people in AI in the Netherlands, he was a great teacher and mentor. For me personally, as my co-promotor he was one of the persons who shaped me into the AI researcher and teacher I am today.

Maarten van Someren at my PhD defense (photo by Jochem Liem)

Before Maarten asked me to do a PhD project under his and Bob Wielinga‘s supervision, I had known him for several years as UvA’s most prolific AI teacher. Maarten was involved in many courses, (many in Machine Learning) and in coordinating roles. I fondly look back at Maarten explaining Decision Trees, the A* algorithm and Vapnikā€“Chervonenkis dimensions. He was one of the staff members who really was a bridge between research and education and gave students the idea that we were actually part of the larger AI movement in the Netherlands.

After I finished my Master’s at UvA in 2003, I bumped into Maarten in the UvA elevator and he asked me whether I would be interested in doing a PhD project on Ontology Learning. Maarten explained that I would start out being supervised by both him and Bob Wielinga, but that after a while one of them would take the lead, depending on the direction the research took. In the years that followed, I tried to make sure that direction was such that both Bob and Maarten remained my supervisors as I felt I was learning so much from them. From Maarten I learned how to always stay critical about the assumptions in your research. Maarten for example kept insisting that I explain why we would need semantic technologies in the first place, rather than taking this as an assumption. Looking back, this has tremendously helped me sharpen my research and I am very thankful for his great help. I was happy to work further with him as a postdoc on the SiteGuide project before moving to VU.

In the last years, I met Maarten several times at shared UvA-VU meetings and I was looking forward to collaborations in AI education and research. I am very sad that I will no longer be able to collaborate with him. AI in the Netherlands has lost a very influential person in Maarten.

Share This: