Team members

The Smooth Operator project is embedded in an experienced team of scientists and private partners to ensure both its scientific and societal relevance.

Scientific partners

The team of scholars involved is multidisciplinary and therefore complementary. Each scholar has valuable expertise that matches the computational and social perspectives of the project. The scholars have collaborated intensively in prior research and published in leading peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings.

Tilburg University

Dr. Christine Liebrecht

Dr. Christine Liebrecht is assistant professor at Tilburg University’s TiCC. Her research focuses on linguistic and content characteristics in online messages to create sustainable online relationships between different parties (e.g. organizations and customers) via CMC, such as social media and conversational AI. In her research, data of corpora are combined with computational and experimental approaches. Liebrecht’s work has been published in national and international peer-reviewed journals, such as Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Information Processing & Management, and Linguistic Issues in Language Technology. She received research grants of Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Commerciële Communicatie (SWOCC) in 2014, Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) in 2014 and 2015, a NWO KIEM grant for creative industries in 2017, and a SBIR grant focusing on New technologies for inclusion and empowerment in 2020.

Dr. Emiel van Miltenburg

Dr. Emiel van Miltenburg is an assistant professor at Tilburg University. His research focuses on Natural Language Generation (NLG), with a particular emphasis on automatic image description. Within this domain, he is interested in accessibility (supporting blind and visually impaired users of NLG technology), evaluation (determining the quality and usefulness of automatically generated texts), and ethics (understanding the social implications of language technology). He is currently a board member of SIGGEN, and a member of the editorial board of NEJLT  Northern European Journal of Language Technology.

Prof. dr. Emiel Krahmer

Prof. dr. Emiel Krahmer is a full professor and co-program leader of the Language, Communication and Cognition program (part of TiCC), which was rated as having excellent quality during the latest research assessment. He leads The Tilburg University Language Production (TULP) group, focussing on text generation from different inputs. He has co-supervised 33 PhD students (22 completed), and co-authored 400+ peer-reviewed publications. In his research he studies how people communicate with each other, and how computers can be taught to do the same, to improve human-computer interaction. Much of his research is funded by grants from NWO, SIA and H2020, including a NWO VICI grant.

Anouck Braggaar

Anouck Braggaar is a PhD candidate at Tilburg University and researches how chatbots can be evaluated in different fields (from NLP to communication). She graduated with a masters in Linguistics from the University of Groningen. During her masters she focused mainly on computational linguistics working for example on probing multilingual models on Frisian syntax and Frisian dependency parsing. 

Utrecht University

Dr. Charlotte van Hooijdonk

Dr. Charlotte van Hooijdonk is assistant professor at Utrecht University. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of text and image characteristics in different genres, such as patient leaflets, advertisements, and corporate social media messages. Her work has been published in national, and internal peer-reviewed journals, such as Journal of Pragmatics, Applied Cognitive Psychology, and Health Communication. In 2016, she received a ZONMW-STIP grant in collaboration with Health Base, NIVEL, KNMP, and Pharos to investigate the comprehensibility of drug labels instructions and to develop and implement optimized drug label instructions. In 2017, she received a NWO KIEM grant with dr. Christine Liebrecht and OBI4wan for the development of an automated tool that identifies the communication style in both employees’ and customers’ online messages.

Prof. dr. Hans Hoeken

Hans Hoeken is fascinated by the question as to how communication can influence what people believe to be true, evaluate as good (or bad), and how they behave. What is the role of the content of the communication in this process? And to what extent does the message’s form figure into the equation? He is interested in the role of argumentation and (verbal and visual) rhetorical figures in rhetorical communication, but also in how stories can influence opinions, attitudes, and behavior. His research has been published in international journals (such as Journal of Communication, Journal of Advertising, Communication Theory, and Thinking & Reasoning). He is also the leading author of Overtuigende Teksten (Persuasive Texts) a (Dutch) monograph on how choices in the design of persuasive documents can influence the persuasion process’ outcome. His research has been funded by NWO and Netspar.

Gabriëlla Martijn

Gabriëlla Martijn is a PhD candidate at Utrecht University and researches the social effects of human-chatbot communication. She graduated from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) with a master’s degree in Communication Science. After graduating, she worked as a digital marketing consultant and advised companies on how to use customer data to boost their sales. 

Dr. Florian Kunneman

Dr. Florian Kunneman is an assistant professor at the Language and Communication group at Utrecht University, intending to improve how governmental institutes communicate to the general public by inquiring into the reception of this communication as voiced on social media platforms. group. His research is situated in the field of Artificial Intelligence, with a focus on language technology and conversational agents. He completed his PhD on modeling time and emotion in Twitter messages in 2017 at Radboud University, during which he won two best paper awards at the Belgian-Netherlands Artificial Intelligence Conference for work on event detection from tweets. As a postdoctoral researcher at Tilburg University and Radboud University Nijmegen, he worked on several projects along with partners such as the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM)and Sanoma Media. He has written blogs as one of the KNAW Faces of Science.

VU University Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Hedwig te Molder

Prof. dr. Hedwig te Molder is full professor and chair Language and Communication at VU Amsterdam. Until December 2019, she was a professor Science and Technology Communication at Wageningen University. She has a special focus on the changing role of experts and expertise in an alleged post-truth society. Hedwig is interested in combining Conversation Analysis (CA) with Natural Language Processing (NLP) to improve the effectiveness of chat sessions, including the design of more proficient conversational agents. She received the Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociological Association for Conversation and Cognition (CUP, 2007). She was a Visiting Scholar at UCSB (2009), a Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna (2015) and a senior Fulbright Scholar at Rutgers University, School of Communication and Information, USA (2017).

Developers of conversational AI  

Two developers of conversational AI are involved in the project: OBI4wan and Both parties have developed conversational AI platforms to create and manage conversational AI and serve a great global user base with many leading companies.

Commercial and non-commercial organizations

Several organizations participate in the project who would like to implement, or already have, conversational AI in their customer service. These organizations differ strongly, for example on their nature (e.g., commercial, charity, governmental organization), field (e.g., accounting, insurances, municipality), target group (e.g., business-to-business or business-to-consumer), and consequently information seeking intent, prior knowledge, tone of voice, and task complexity.

Teaching Institute

Knowledge utilization is strongly focused on the impact on human capital. In collaboration with Conversation Design Institute, we will develop online teaching packages to make employees AI-savvy and optimize their abilities in a challenging human-AI environment.