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21 — 25 April 2021 | Leuven. Belgium

Mieke De Ketelaere on AI: “I think we should be more humble”

Mieke De Ketelaere on AI: “I think we should be more humble”

AI & Data Governance

At and& festival Mieke De Ketelaere (Program Director Artificial Intelligence at Imec) will talk in the conference session ‘Why don’t we listen more to nature?’.  We got the chance to have a chat with her in advance.

(read more below the video)

“We have been focusing too much on the accuracy of our AI systems and we have lost ourselves in the size of the bubbles we're building. Also from a point of energy efficiency.”

This interview was partially created thanks to AI technology. For years and years the job of a content creator or journalist has consisted of patiently typing out audiotapes. Now, the text rolls out over the screen with one click of the mouse, thanks to voice recognition. 

For sure, it helps that our interviewee Mieke De Ketelaere, Program Director Artificial Intelligence at Imec, talks about AI as if it weren’t the most complex given of our time. She is a needed ‘translator’ in AI, putting both the advantages and the threats into a bigger perspective. She recently wrote a book  ‘Mens versus Machine’ (Pelckmans Pro), soon to be translated into English. ‘I saw that engineers have moved at a very fast pace in the domain of artificial intelligence,’ says Mieke. ‘But we didn't do a good job of translating it to the external world.’

‘Nevertheless, we have a collective responsibility for AI,’ says Mieke. ‘The systems are created by engineers, but they have implications for the world we're all living in. We all should take our responsibility in accepting or defining what systems should be out there; making autonomous decisions about our lives. That means decision making should involve the business, it should involve politicians, it should involve sociologists, etc. There should be a multidisciplinary debate on what to do, what to accept, what not to accept when we create these systems.

“A lot of people think that sustainability is all about wooden forks and usage of less plastic. But in fact, every digital solution that we're using is having a negative impact on CO2.”

That’s exactly what and& festival is aiming for in April. You take part in a session called ‘Why don’t we listen more to nature?’

‘Yes, and I'm looking forward to this session, to get into a conversation with biologists because I think we should be more humble. We are not at the top of the pyramid. We as engineers should understand that somebody else has part of the puzzle as well. Knowing that they have maybe some pearls, some pieces of gold that can help us as an engineer to understand nature better, that's what I'm expecting from this session at and&.’
‘The better systems are, the bigger they normally are. And in that race, we have lost track of the fact that the biggest systems also use more energy and algorithms. Each multiplication of a mathematical formula and each addition requests a little bit of energy. So in building up the system, we have enormously increased energy consumption. This is where we got lost. We have been focusing too much on the accuracy of our AI systems and we have lost ourselves in the size of the bubbles we're building. Also from a point of energy efficiency.’

‘When we look at how nature makes decisions and how much energy is used by that, that's very confronting, if you compare it to the big environments we are building right now. So I think we should look more into inspiration on how nature makes decisions in order to improve solutions we are building in technology.’

Take, for example, swarms of birds coming along in springtime, seemingly in an effortless flow. And you compare this with how we are still struggling to make little robots communicate with each other. Then you wonder, why are these birds not having accidents in the air? Why do our robots still have accidents, even if there’s only two of them?’

I understand why we are not always aware of the energy that our systems are consuming. The reason why is because it's not physical. If my daughter is streaming a video on her laptop or if she's chatting online, she doesn’t see, nor feel that somewhere else in the world there are big systems running algorithms, consuming a lot of energy. A lot of people think that sustainability is all about, you know, wooden forks and usage of less plastic. But in fact, every digital solution that we're using is having a negative impact on CO2. Getting that message translated to everybody out there, that's a very important one.
 

Doughnut

The main question at and& is: ‘What does it mean to innovate for the better?’. What does it mean to you?

For me, the better world revolves around doughnut economics, formulated by economist Kate Raworth. It’s a picture of a doughnut where on the inner circle you have the human rights, the right to education, the right to food, the right to water, etc. and on the outer circle, you basically have the limitations from an ecological point of view. The quality of air, quality of water, availability of elements, etcetera. 

What we should do all together with all the disciplines, is find a way to collaborate between these two boundaries. And that's, in my opinion, where we're not doing a good job right now. It should be our focus in the future.
 

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