Vanesa Guerrero, mathematician: “It makes us vulnerable not to know what is behind artificial intelligence” | Technology

“Is it better to have a stopped clock that doesn’t work at all or one that goes back a minute every day?” This riddle appears in the work of mathematician Lewis Carroll when the Mad Hatter has tea with Alice in Wonderland. It is also one of the questions that Vanesa Guerrero (Guadalcanal, Seville, 25 years old) asked ChatGPT in two different ways. First, the artificial intelligence (AI) chose the clock that went one minute slow each day, but when rephrasing the question, the tool changed its mind.

This literary scene served as an example for Guerrero to explain that ChatGPT choose one answer or the opposite depending on how the question is formulated. The same goes for the mathematical models she works with. “With my research I seek to develop tools, algorithms, methodology, models, equations that allow you, through data, to make informed decisions, that are interpretable and coherent and that do not discriminate,” she explains. Guerrero has been one of the winners of the L’Oréal-Unesco awards For Women in Science for his work on algorithmic fairness in functional data. She has a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Seville and a professor of Statistics at the Carlos III University of Madrid.

Guerrero seeks to ensure that his algorithms “make fair decisions” based on functional data, such as a person’s salary or blood pressure. The way to do it is to first define what equity means in a context and then write the mathematical formulation, see how to solve it and how to apply it, as he says. In his daily life, Guerrero deals with professionals from other sectors—such as insurance companies or banks—to shape his equations and solve different problems. The range of difficulties in his algorithmic world is very wide: “Many times the most complicated thing is the use of the language itself, being able to understand what needs exist, even within mathematics itself,” he admits. .

Fair equations

Can algorithms ever be completely fair? Guerrero says he is working on it, but explains that biases are inherent to the data. “Artificial intelligence is reproducing those biases that are in the data. It will evolve, just as society is evolving. Just as we now speak in a more inclusive language, which 20 years ago was unthinkable, the same will happen with this type of tools based on artificial intelligence.” Both in statistics and in AI models, Guerrero warns that the selection of data is crucial so that “they are representative of what you want to study.”

In cases where ChatGPT has given results biased by gender, such as those for disease prediction, Guerrero proposes to the creators a commitment to the data: “If you want your algorithm or your model to be accurate when predicting a disease, but also that (it is precise) among the sensitive groups that you have, such as men and women, you have to balance the total prediction error with the error of the groups.” That is, knowing how the algorithm behaves in a specific group, globally, and correcting the errors it finds among the “sensitive groups.” Furthermore, Guerrero is also committed to gender equality in technological teams: “Today there are more men than women. We need teams where there are men, women and people of different religions. “Each one has experienced something that they later put into their work.”

Vanesa Guerrero at the Carlos III University of Madrid.Sandra Benitez Peña

Failure to control the responses of artificial intelligence also poses a risk to knowledge in general. The new generations “are going to educate themselves by reading what ChatGPT gives them back,” says Guerrero. Two Technology teachers in A Coruña acknowledged to EL PAÍS in December of last year that ChatGPT “is an invaluable tool” that can be used in classrooms “as a guide or advisor.” Teachers emphasize that students ask good questions to obtain better results from the tool. Guerrero, as a teacher, is in favor of using the tool, however, she focuses on algorithmic architecture: “There is a need for research and the development of models and methods that correct (biases) until it is achieved naturally.” .

Regulate black boxes

Another way to address the problems of artificial intelligence is with the ethical governance of systems. Last Tuesday, the European Union definitively approved the artificial intelligence law, which will be applied progressively until 2026. The standard establishes different obligations for AI applications depending on the risks of their use. The creation of fake images or news, and the possibility of not distinguishing between what is real and what is not, such as the so-called deepfakes, are some of its consequences. “We do not have to stop the evolution of this technology, far from it, but rather assess the risks and regulate so that it does not negatively affect society,” he clarifies.

Guerrero defines artificial intelligence models created by big technology companies, such as OpenAI or Google, as “black boxes.” These devices are characterized by their large storage and opacity. “Not knowing what’s behind it makes you vulnerable, why are they telling me this? Maybe they are using my private data. That all these tools are in the hands of large private technology companies is also a risk.” Guerrero believes in “open science”, and in open source, so that everyone who wants to know, contribute and develop on that methodology is available. And he maintains in this regard: “Regulation is needed so that they cannot do what they want without going through some control,” says Guerrero.

“Is a clock that tells the time exactly once every two years better or a clock that is punctual twice a day?” On this occasion, ChatGPT chose the stopped clock, and although it may seem that a clock that is one minute behind a day is better than a broken one, the late clock gives the exact time once every two years, while the stopped one does. does it twice a day.

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