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.