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Heading for safe and robust AI

Sébastien Dester­cke is a CNRS research sci­en­tist and head of the Knowl­edge, Uncer­tain­ty, Data (CID) team at the UTC Heudi­asyc Lab., a joint UTC/CNRS unit. He is also Pro­fes­sor of the Indus­tri­al Chair in Safe Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (AI) launched in ear­ly 2022.

An aca­d­e­m­ic Chair involv­ing, over and above UTC, The Sor­bonne Cen­tre for Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (SCAI), the CNRS and Sopra Ste­ria, spon­sor & founder of the UTC Foun­da­tion for Inno­va­tion, a chair which, at UTC, mobilis­es 2 lab­o­ra­to­ries work­ing on AI itself — the CID team of Heudi­asyc and UTCLMAC (math­e­mat­ics) whose work is part­ly at the heart of AI — and 3 oth­ers – UTC-Rober­val, UTC-BMBI and UTC-Avenues — spe­cialised in domains where AI will play a grow­ing role in the future. UTC-Heudi­asyc is also involved in AI applications. 

The arrival of Sopra Ste­ria as a part­ner of the Chair? “Our rela­tion­ship with the com­pa­ny goes back a long way. We start­ed work­ing on the inte­gra­tion of AI in areas of con­cern to Sopra Ste­ria, such as real estate, human resources or bank­ing, with­in the frame­work of the uni­ver­si­ty Foun­da­tion, well before the cre­ation of the Part­ner­ship Foun­da­tion,” says Sébastien Destercke. 

This fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion will take a new turn with the estab­lish­ment of the Safe AI Chair. Its objec­tive? It is to “focus on sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant themes while meet­ing indus­tri­al needs in the con­text of the deploy­ment of AI tools. The aim is to devel­op arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tems that are both safe and robust. These sys­tems are part of the broad­er issue of trust­wor­thy AI. Indeed, man­u­fac­tur­ers must have con­fi­dence in the tool they are going to deploy,” he explains. 

What do we mean by ‘robust sys­tems’? “A com­pelling anal­o­gy is that of an air­plane which you board, not because you under­stand every­thing about its oper­a­tion, but because you know that the risk of acci­dent or crit­i­cal error is very low. The cri­te­ri­on of robust­ness is a deci­sive aspect in many indus­tri­al appli­ca­tions and par­tic­u­lar­ly in AI sys­tems. Their robust­ness is mea­sured by their abil­i­ty to adapt, with­out los­ing qual­i­ty, to changes in deploy­ment con­di­tions and in the envi­ron­ment,” he explains. 

And what about sys­tem safe­ty fac­tors? “This is the sec­ond essen­tial cri­te­ri­on for trust­wor­thy AI. It’s about being able to quan­ti­fy the uncer­tain­ty asso­ci­at­ed with the sys­tem’s pre­dic­tions. The aim is for the sys­tem to be able to quan­ti­fy its own con­fi­dence in its pre­dic­tions. If I say I am 90% sure that a giv­en pre­dic­tion is right, I would like it to be right 90% of the time. It is there­fore this aspect of ‘cer­tain­ty’ that we will ensure,” empha­sis­es Sébastien Destercke. 

How long will this chair last? “It is an ambi­tious project main­ly financed by the UTC Foun­da­tion for Inno­va­tion and its mem­bers, with human resources made avail­able by all the part­ners for a peri­od of five years,” he concludes.

UTC’S FOUNDATION FOR INNOVATION

Cre­at­ed at the end of 2018, the UTC Foun­da­tion for Inno­va­tion is sup­port­ed by Saint-Gob­ain Group, the UTC uni­ver­si­ty and the UTC Alum­ni asso­ci­a­tion. Patrick Dupin, Deputy Gen­er­al Man­ag­er of Saint-Gob­ain, is Chair­man of the Foundation’s Board. 

Where did the idea behind the cre­ation of the Foun­da­tion come from? “A part­ner­ship foun­da­tion, unlike a com­pa­ny foun­da­tion, is sup­port­ed by a pub­lic insti­tu­tion. This allows UTC to estab­lish a strong insti­tu­tion­al alliance with cer­tain indus­tri­al part­ners. Espe­cial­ly giv­en that the links with the eco­nom­ic world, in par­tic­u­lar indus­try, have been part of the UTC’s DNA since its cre­ation in 1972,” explains Sylvie Lemon­nier-Morel, the Foun­da­tion’s Gen­er­al Secretary. 

Among the objec­tives of the Foun­da­tion? “The aim is to accom­pa­ny UTC and its ecosys­tem in inno­va­tion projects that make sense in tomor­row’s world; to encour­age entre­pre­neur­ship among stu­dents and alum­ni as well as the spir­it of ini­tia­tive; and final­ly to accom­pa­ny the most deserv­ing and enter­pris­ing stu­dents, but some­times also the most social­ly frag­ile, along their career paths in order to increase their chances of suc­cess”, explains Patrick Dupin. 

What is his vision of his role as pres­i­dent? “It is to sup­port our team in achiev­ing these objec­tives, and that we do not devi­ate, whether in spir­it or in sub­stance. I also make sure that the founders, UTC, and our indus­tri­al part­ners are per­fect­ly aligned,” he concludes.

Le magazine

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