Telecommunications engineer Nuria Oliver (Alicante, 1970), an expert in human-computer interaction with 41 patents, received her doctorate from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and has spent years reflecting on a more responsible use of technology from the positions she has held: 12 years researching at Microsoft, multimedia scientific director at Telefónica or director of Data Sciences at Vodafone. Oliver now focuses his efforts on ELLIS (European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting high-quality artificial intelligence research in Europe, and on the Data-Pop Alliance ―promoted by Harvard University and MIT― which aims to promote better citizen decisions about technology. Last week Oliver participated in a panel at Universia 2023 – a meeting of 700 rectors organized by Banco Santander in Valencia – and she gave an interview to this newspaper.
Ask. How do you see that in China they teach artificial intelligence in primary?
Answer. Xi Jinping outlines a strategy for China to be number one in artificial intelligence by 2030 that includes its massive use of society and its incorporation into compulsory education.
Q. Should we include this content in Spanish programming?
R. A computational thinking transversal subject is needed for which computers are not needed. It serves to develop five essential skills: algorithmic thinking ―solving a complex problem, breaking it down into parts that are sequenced, because that is how problems are solved using technology―; secondly, programming, the language of machines; and in third, fourth and fifth place they have to be competent in data, networks and hardware (physical elements that constitute a computer system). We confuse not being able to live without a mobile with being a digital native or competent in technology.
Q. Do you perceive it in their talks?
R. Yes. I have given to thousands of teenagers. I say: ‘Whoever has the mobile phone raise their hand.’ Everyone and I continue: ‘And now those of you who know how to program your mobile’. A mobile that is, by the way, hundreds of times more powerful than the computers in my doctorate. Someone always leaves it up and I ask: ‘What programs?’ He always answers: ‘Mobile alarm’, and he is so happy’. We must encourage creativity, critical thinking, our emotional and social intelligence, which perhaps we are not developing because human-to-human communication is mediated by technology, which impoverishes it. What happens if we stop knowing how to argue amicably or collaborate? What happens if we stop being bored, key to creativity? We accept having technology made to be using it all day, addictive, and we give it to our children. We have the capacity to make a technology that says: ‘Look, Nuria, I see that you are not doing anything useful with me, why don’t you turn me off?’ It is a project that I have wanted to do since 2014.
We confuse not being able to live without a mobile with being a digital native or competent in technology
Q. Is ChatGPT going to spell the death of the humanities?
R. There will probably be a point where nothing we read, hear or see in the digital world is necessarily going to be true and we are going to have to teach critical thinking, questioning sources, contrasting data… It is going to be very difficult for a human being to resist the temptation of not asking a great model of language to tear up a blank page. Although perhaps it will help us to start and we will continue. But there will also be algorithmic creations, in which there is no guarantee of veracity, even if it sounds very credible. At least during a transition period, it can be very dangerous if we don’t adjust to questioning everything we read.
Q. And while it’s not clear, do we have to act like the New York schools that have banned ChatGPT so they don’t do their homework that way?
R. The challenge is to carry out a large-scale education campaign. Educational interventions are medium and long term, they do not happen immediately. In many contexts in the United States, it has been prohibited to deal with the short term, while they find a solution. In Europe there is another problem, which is the misuse of huge amounts of data without explicit consent; And that is the dimension for which OpenAI (creator of ChatGPT) is being questioned by the Italian Agency for Data Protection and other agencies.
Q. Artificial intelligence can predict how a student’s grades will be by looking at their pre-registration data. Are you ready to tackle educational problems beforehand?
R. It gives you the opportunity to detect difficulties early: dyslexia, hyperactivity disorders… Just as we are going to go from general medicine to precision, personalized, preventive and predictive medicine, there will be personalized education. Not all of us learn in the same way, nor do we use the same senses, mechanisms and speed. The great opportunity is that each one can develop their potential by adapting education to their abilities.
Q. Are teachers going to have to train in artificial intelligence?
R. In any educational transformation, the great challenge is teacher training. A massive investment is required in the hundreds of thousands of teachers in Spain, and above all we have to see how to democratize artificial intelligence. There are centers that have spent years teaching their students about technology, because they understand that it will be necessary for the future; but there are others who cannot economically or do not have trained teachers. You have to make sure that there is not going to be an even bigger educational gap.
The human has not been designed to be all day in front of a screen
Q. Sometimes there is reluctance to change from the teachers themselves, such as project-based teaching.
R. A massive transformation of the labor market always affects psychology. It is difficult for anyone to manage due to the uncertainty that it entails. The bottleneck is that teachers see artificial intelligence as a real opportunity to educate better, not as a threat, a burden or a fad.
Q. Universities are beginning to offer a degree in artificial intelligence. Is specific training needed or is engineering and a master’s degree better?
Q. It is controversial. My personal vision is more of a general education that teaches you the bases on which to later build different specializations; because more specific training can become obsolete if there is a technological development. But then a specialization offer is needed that is agile, adapted to the needs of society.
Q. What do you think of meta-universities that incorporate the metaverse into their teaching?
R. Humans have not been designed to be in front of a screen all day, 24 hours a day with augmented reality glasses. It is not the vision that I have of the future of Homo sapiens. And we are a social species, we need face to face. 80% of human communication is non-verbal, but it’s great to use virtual reality to visualize concepts that require a 3D visualization.
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