In the not too distant future practically any human experience will be able to be carried out by machines, from transportation to health services. Advanced technology will require the assistance of computer engineers, but also mathematicians, economists, psychologists, and even philosophers. The president of the Spanish Association for Artificial Intelligence (Aepia), Amparo Alonso Betanzos, advocates that ethics govern the development of digitization and robotization. Professor in the area of Computing and Artificial Intelligence at the University of La Coruña, Alonso sees the need to introduce a subject at school that teaches computational thinking.
-The US and China do not seem interested in imposing ethical limits on the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), while Europe does. How do you think the conflict will be resolved?
–We know that China uses AI for population control. The country is not interested in imposing limits. In the US there is no federal law in this regard, but there are restrictions in several states regarding the use of biometric controls in open spaces. In the EU it is not intended to inhibit the development of AI, but to subordinate it to certain conditions. Some issues are becoming more and more pervasive, such as privacy, a concern that is beginning to be assumed by some companies.
– Is it worrying that the selection of personnel is mediated by algorithms that have a race and gender bias?
–I imagine you are talking to me about Google and Amazon, which had to eliminate its personnel selection algorithm because it showed a strong gender bias, from which it was inferred that women were less suitable than men, when in reality it is that the resumes females were underrepresented. The databases must be of high quality, without biases that induce discrimination.
– Is AI a discipline in blankets or are we one step away from machines making decisions like humans?
–It is a discipline that already has a certain maturity. In fact, it dates from the mid-1950s. We have come a long way since then. We use AI when we accept the recommendations made by television platforms or when we use the mobile browser to drive.
– What areas are most promising?
–Education and health are two of the areas that will change the most in the coming years due to the use of AI. Vaccines against the covid virus have been made available quickly, thanks in part to artificial intelligence. Infrastructures, public transport, public services of the Administration, insurance, finance, agriculture and tourism are sectors with great potential.
– There are those who maintain that it will be the robots, not the human being, who will conquer space.
– We are already witnessing the use of robots for marine exploration, the only space on the planet that remains unexplored. The machines will manage the traffic, and take care of the environment. In other areas, AI should be prohibited or severely restricted in practices such as social scoring (a score that determines a person’s credibility or reputation) or population monitoring.
– What trades cannot be performed by machines?
–In very few places we will not be able to use AI. Many jobs and trades will end, but new ones will appear. They are jobs that have to do with telecommunications and cybersecurity. At the same time many people will use machines to work. Today there are countless medical and diagnostic tests that are performed thanks to technology, and that has not meant the disappearance of medical professionals.
– Do we have fewer computer engineers than we need?
Yes, it happens all over Europe. Sometimes I find it very difficult to understand. It is not a simple degree, women are not attracted to technology careers and the salaries are not very good in the sector.
–European recovery funds are expected to finance AI projects. Are you confident that they will be spent well?
–We are facing an opportunity to change our economic model. The pandemic has shown that an economy based on construction and tourism is not the best.
– Is a computer science subject necessary in schools?
–In the United Kingdom there is a subject that is not exactly computer science, but it does teach how to think logically and stimulates abstract reasoning, skills that are useful to be able to handle new technologies. We should most likely include similar subjects in social science disciplines.