“Can machines think?” asked the English mathematician and computer genius Alan Turing in 1950. Seven decades later, artificial intelligence (AI) has accelerated what appears to be leading to a new industrial revolution, in which jobs will be eliminated of work that will be performed by machines and specific jobs will be created, accompanied by changes in society and in the way we communicate with others. AI arouses in humans apocalyptic fears, misgivings or passionate adherence. One of the people who wants to shed light on that future is Asunción Gómez-Pérez (Azuaga, Badajoz, 55 years old), an expert in this discipline who creates computer programs to execute operations similar to those of the minds of earthlings. This Sunday she has entered the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), where she will occupy the chair q and she has also become the youngest member of the institution’s plenary session.
“Artificial intelligence is the technology of the moment”, he underlined in his speech, and it is advancing “so rapidly that very soon new inventions will be in our pockets, at home and at work”. Instead of tools like ChatGPT or Bard, this one developed by Google, which imitate human language, “there will be other toys that will use artificial intelligence and open newspaper front pages.”
With a speech entitled Artificial intelligence and the Spanish language and in an act in which there has been much more public than on previous occasions, Gómez-Pérez, professor of Artificial Intelligence at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), where she is vice-rector for Research, Innovation and Doctorate, is the first specialist in Information Technology and Communication invested academic language. She graduated in Computer Science, she received a PhD in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence in 1993.
The successor in the chair of the philologist Gregorio Salvador Caja, who died on December 26, 2020, has indicated that “learning and reasoning are the two great pillars of AI”, that the machines that surround us understand Spanish and use it with correctness, with all its richness and varieties. Elected in the plenary session on April 7, 2022, after her admission there are 43 academics out of the 46 available places, with her there are 10 academics (the novelist Clara Sánchez has yet to read her speech) and of the last five elections, four have been for women
Asunción Gómez-Pérez, an expert in artificial intelligence, poses before the act of entering the RAE.Andrea Comas
In his curriculum, he highlights that he has participated in 106 research projects, 49 of them international (“reconciling personal and professional life in research is not easy,” he said) and leads the Ontological Engineering Group at the UPM, made up of 61 researchers . The phrase “ontological engineering” refers, as she told this newspaper in an interview when she was elected, “to computational models that make a system intelligent, and to do this they use words.”
Since 2018, he has belonged to the group of experts that advises the Government on AI and big data. Precisely, the act was chaired by the First Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation, Nadia Calviño, in charge of presenting her with the academic medal. Gómez-Pérez recalled the development of AI, which today is used by university students for their jobs, lecturers in their speeches, images are created, but which also intoxicates social networks with false messages: “Although it is thought that the concepts of AI are modern, in the 19th century the British inventors Babbage and Byron designed mechanical and electrical devices to carry out cognitive activities and in World War II the first digital computers were built”.
On his journey he stopped in 2019, when the European Commission “presented ethical guidelines for artificial intelligence based on human rights, equity and respect for the law.” All this in a field in which there is fierce competition between technology giants and the EU with the United States and China.
Discrimination, hate, violence
“These days, the Commission is finalizing a regulation on artificial intelligence systems, and more is needed with each passing day.” A circumstance due “to the possible risks of the new great language models”, which if created from erroneous databases, will reproduce the biases committed by humans, using terms “ranging from discrimination, exclusion, incitement to hatred or violence”. “Not everything that is technically possible is socially convenient, the borders of what is ethical, what is legally acceptable and what is environmental can be overcome”. On the latter, he has warned of the “enormous amounts of energy” that new technologies need. The name “cloud” is a euphemism for servers and platforms in data centers around the world.
In what position is Spain at the birth of this new civilization? Gómez-Pérez recalled that in 2019 the RAE launched the Spanish Language and Artificial Intelligence (LEIA) project, whose purpose is “to take care of the use of correct Spanish in technological media and avoid losing unity” of the almost 600 million of Spanish speakers; that the machines with which we live and use our language (a mobile phone, a car, a refrigerator, a robot…) are “trained with favorable linguistic materials”. And there the RAE, “which receives 20 million monthly queries through its website”, has experience and corpus.
The importance that this institution gives to AI has been felt in the fact that its director, Santiago Muñoz Machado, was in charge of the welcoming speech to Gómez-Pérez, which had not happened since 1932. Muñoz Machado has stressed that the new academic is an authority “on a radically new subject in this house, which opens a new era in the academy.” “In any case, advances in AI are making the world worry.”
Before these words, Gómez-Pérez urged the academy to “incorporate more artificial intelligence into its daily tasks, such as in the work of lexicographers.” Among other reasons, because we are “in a race in which Spanish progresses behind English”. To try to recover ground, in 2020 the Government launched the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, a plan in which “in addition to the RAE, the Administrations, large companies, universities and research centers should participate,” he pointed out. . We are in “the era of Mister Chip”, as Miguel Ríos sang forty years ago in the Year 2000. Although it is better that what the lyrics said is not fulfilled: that Mister Chip “for now takes away your job / besides being your file endless”.
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