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Staying In Focus with… Professor Zyed Zalila

by Su Aziz

He invented an autonomous vehicle that drove without human intervention, the world’s first automatic parking system as well as intelligent robot xtractis® and Professor Zyed Zalila, a panellist for WIEF’s Global Discourse on Artificial Intelligence, hopes to one day give legal identity to intelligent robots and his reasons are astounding.

Professor Zyed Zalila
President, CEO, Founder and Research & Development Director, Intellitech, France

What subjects were you good at in school?
Mathematics, philosophy and physics, subjects that required thinking and reasoning rather than memorising. When I was in elementary school in the seventies, the French Ministry of Education first introduced modern mathematics which was an initiation to logic and theory of sets. I loved this very innovative branch of mathematics and luckily, I had the opportunity to extend this branch of mathematics during my PhD. I remember studying with great interest both the books that were meant for schoolchildren and those that were meant for parents to enable them to help us in this learning.

What was the most intelligent technology you’ve seen developed since 1993?
That would be the emergence of more and more agile and quick search engines on the internet. It’s been revolutionary to have access to knowledge for a very large number of citizens of the world. Unfortunately, the intelligence of these engines remains perfectible and above all it would be necessary to develop an intelligence which succeeds in filtering the true information from false ones while filtering violent or shocking information. Just because a piece of information is available on the internet, doesn’t make is necessarily true and young people need to develop a more critical mind to avoid the spread of fake news.

And…what else?
Smartphones. Its development is a technical and technological feat that has revolutionised our lifestyle. It’s an excellent security tool that reassures people even in remote areas. Who would take the risk today of getting off his broken car on the highway, walking several kilometres on the emergency stop band to reach an emergency call terminal? It also allowed the development of social networks.

Not disremembering…
…the Global Positioning System (GPS). It’s also a great system that contributes to more driving safety and comfort. Just think, a few years ago, one had to read maps even when driving to reach a destination. Then there’s the xpark!® system I invented in 2000 that makes automatic parking perfect and safe. It was a world premiere because this thorny problem posed by the academics during the sixties had managed to resist for nearly 40 years.

What are the challenges of impressing the licensing of ADAS?

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to enforce Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) intellectual property rights in the automotive world when you’re a small structure and only sell software components.

But it’s a necessary condition because without it, a small structure wouldn’t exist for automotive manufacturers and equipment suppliers. In the industrial world, it’s normal to buy hardware components but less common to buy intangible assets such as embedded software. Yet, the intelligence of an automatic driving system of a vehicle is more in its software decision-making systems that merge all available data to make the best decisions at any moment, rather than in its sensors and calculators. The temptation of automakers is therefore to understand how your invention works and try to bypass your patent or reduce the license fees that they should pay. It’s hardly a win-win deal.

What is unique about the AI research and development sector in Paris?
France is recognised for its mathematical school at the university level. Even though the mathematical level of young French students in high school has relatively declined lately, they’re trained very early in abstract reasoning and this intellectual practice intensifies after graduation from high school. But AI is a trans-discipline requiring intellectual gymnastics between multiple approaches: mathematics, biology, philosophy, linguistics.

The main wealth of a country like France which doesn’t have many natural resources is its young people and the French state has always developed the knowledge economy. Very high level training of French engineers at the grandes écoles (best engineering schools) is a source of providers of innovative technology.

The support of the French state for innovation through labels such as the FranceTech, more recently the France AI labels, the Young Innovative Company structure and the tax incentives granted by the Research Tax Credit, means that France is innovating and exporting its innovations. Several international research and development centres are also set up in France, specifically in Paris, because they’ve the highest level of human resources, surprising intellectual agility and tax incentives. Also, the salaries of French engineers are lower than those at the Silicon Valley.

Why do we need AI?
Can we imagine a moment of life without a smartphone with a tactile interface when this tool didn’t exist a decade ago?

The ‘benevolent’ AI will help us in our everyday life as a coach or guardian angel and will become a must in our lives:
– to make the best possible decisions to buy and sell products and services according to our tastes and needs; to alert us of diseases that might appear in the near future so as to be able to counteract them at the earliest;
– to create personalised medicines that’ll work without adverse effects; to monitor the future evolution of a patient’s condition;
– to accelerate credit approval or to avoid a malicious use of our payment means; to maximize our savings and wealth;
– to alert a manager about the risk of his company’s failure or about the risk of imminent departure of one of his best staff members or the future cessation of relationships with one of his best customers;
– to help engineers design products that’ll appeal to each or all various customer segments;
– to help an industrial company to anticipate the future failure of a machine and to optimize the use of its resources (energy, water, raw materials);
– to enable a safer world by early detection of malicious behaviours such as fraud, money laundering, security as well as cyber security and by offering virtual drivers of autonomous vehicles.

What are concerns on AI’s disruption?
Like any disruptive technology, AI will bring its share of negative effects that the regulator must imperatively control. Thus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ended up banning genetic tests for predicting diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, marketed by American start-ups because their predictive performance is too low, for now.

AI will undoubtedly lead to the disappearance of a large number of skilled or even highly skilled occupations based on expertise. In 2015, the big international banks quickly realised that the new generation of customers required a premium online banking services at a low price but with maximum availability. This is why they are all implementing their digital transformation at high velocity and job losses because AI is starting to be sensible.

Foretelling the future with AI…
I imagine future medical practitioners will no longer be selected on their mere ability to learn knowledge by heart. Instead, they’ll become engineers capable of using AI systems specialised in medical diagnosis but have a high level of empathy or emotional intelligence to detect the emotions of their patients. In the world of finance and insurance too, where the human advisor, actuary and trader may be replaced by intelligent robots that are more efficient and very appreciated by digital natives because they’re available 24/7 on smartphones.

Taxis and heavyweight trucks will be driven autonomously. Car manufacturers will no longer sell vehicles to individuals because they won’t want to buy a vehicle. Instead, they’ll lease the services of a virtual driver of different categories, depending on the occasion, to move comfortably and safely while taking advantage of the journey to pursue their favourite hobbies, from listening to music to online shopping. Google’s great interest in autonomous vehicles is understandable…many potential hours for advertisement viewing online.

And if the tentacles of AI’s influence perseveres?
Then the legal sector may have a ‘virtual judge’ robot that downgrades the noble profession of lawyers by predicting legal decisions. But can we accept a ‘virtual investigator’ who’ll anticipate a person preparing a crime or an offense and can stop it before it happens? The foundation of justice, at least the French one, will be completely disrupted! Another danger would be the malicious misappropriation of AI. Do we want our future employer or insurer to know about the future diseases we may develop through analysis of our genome and living environment? Can we accept that parents decide a voluntary abortion just because a robot predicted their child will develop several cancers by age 40? Another scary point would be the development of autonomous robots that’ll be granted permission to kill such as robot soldiers, smart drones and smart tanks, in order to avoid endangering human soldiers. Who’ll be responsible for military errors on the battlefield, then?

What else to consider when it comes to AI?
If a company exploits the intelligence of its robots to create value and money, why shouldn’t they pay social charges and taxes on these robots? If an intelligent robot is the inventor of a major discovery, who’ll be the author: the robot itself, its designer or its operator? Many of these questions I raise remain unanswered. This is because if we regulate too much, we’ll eventually kill the innovation and the development of AI and if not regulated, the population can be duped by having a blind confidence in a technology that’s not mature and, therefore, unreliable.

Why a need for legal identity to intelligent robots?
For me, giving a legal identity to intelligent robots will have their performance evaluated objectively by the regulator, a performance that’ll officially be recognised in the same way as our diplomas or expertise and this will allow them to be co-authors of publications that present their findings.

How did your xtractis® technology come about?
In 1987, after my master’s degree, I continued with a PhD in Fuzzy Mathematics, that I defended in 1993. The fuzzy approach allows an infinity of levels of truth between true and false, when all classical mathematics are based on Aristotle’s axiom that allows only two levels: true or false. To conclude my research, I proposed a theory of fuzzy relations of order N, allowing the modelling of complex processes of real life, which are multidimensional and in interaction. Thanks to this approach, I invented the ADAS of the first autonomous vehicle of Renault in 1990s which automatically drove on open road without human intervention. Then, thanks to this approach, I invented xpark!®, the world’s first automatic parking system in 2000.

What is xtractis® technology?
It appeared necessary to propose an AI capable of doing the same work as a human scientist who sets up equations to model a process based on a set of observations and an inductive reasoning that he leads through cognitive abilities. So, I proposed the combination of the theory of fuzzy relations of order N with proprietary algorithms of machine learning which allowed the creation of our intelligent robot xtractis®. It does the same job as a scientist, except that it’s absolutely not limited by the number of simultaneous variables that it’s capable of analysing and exploring. It’s also able to estimate the robustness of new knowledge it discovers.

How does xtractis® add to AI?
The most complex class of problems that xtractis® has been able to handle successfully is metabolic epigenetic predictive medicine, to predict the risk of occurrence of a future disease by analysing nearly 26,000 interacting variables characterising the patient’s genome, metabolism and environment. If a medical diagnostics (of cancer or any other disease) championship was organised, xtractis® would undoubtedly beat all the human expert candidates.

Unlike a neural network, which is a black box that doesn’t allow any interpretability is a huge problem for all applications with a direct impact on civil society, a decision-making system discovered by xtractis® is composed of ‘if…then’ decision rules and, therefore, interpretable. Moreover, it can justify all its decisions by explaining the line of reasoning it follows.

So, xtractis® has two basic advantages: compared to deep learning, the discovered system is intelligible by humans; and compared to cognitivist AI (that gave rise to the concept of Expert Systems), the decision-making system is automatically discovered by xtractis® and can therefore model any process, however complex, and in any way, which is an impossible task for the human brain.

What xtractis® means to you?

I call xtractis® my ‘exo-brain’ or cognitive orthosis.

When I cooperate with it, I become more intelligent because I can perceive my world in a holistic and multidimensional way. Moreover, without 15 top-level researchers and 300 xtractis® robots at Intellitech, xtractis® wouldn’t exist. But without our robots, Intellitech would have several thousand engineers, instead.

What xtractis® can mean for various industries?
For predictive medicine, it’ll be interesting to anticipate the occurrence of type 2 diabetes and encourage people to change their lifestyle to stop the outbreak of the disease or limit its effects. Don’t you think early detection of different types of cancers should be generalised to stop them and avoid spending around RM1 million annually per patient in chemotherapy and do the same for Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis? There’ll be a day when countries will no longer be able to pay for the expensive treatment requested by big pharmaceuticals and such a situation is avoidable because of early detection of the disease.

In experimental sciences, the researcher can discover more effective predictive models thanks to his ‘exo-brain’ and will have no qualms about citing him as co-author of his publications.

In ecology, models will allow us to predict the toxicity of our chemical molecules on living species and will encourage us to better regulate our industrial activities.

In economics, the simple and erroneous models proposed by the neo-classics since the beginning of the twentieth century will soon be replaced by more complex but more accurate predictive models that’ll prevent us from repeated economic and financial crises.

In political science, it can help us to better understand the risks of conflict in an interconnected world in order to avoid the uprisings of oppressed populations and the inevitable mass exoduses.

More generally, xtractis® can be used to detect scientific fraud (results tampered with in publications) or to audit human or virtual experts. As a result, we’ll see a significant deflation in the number of publications accepted because most of them would be rejected by such an automatic audit.

Your hopes for xtractis®?
I plan to extend the cognitive abilities of xtractis®. Today, it can be considered as a universal solver of predictive modelling of complex processes and phenomena problems. But it can only deal with qualitative and quantitative structured data on the process to be studied. By 2018, we’re planning an important extension that’ll enable xtractis® to take advantage of unstructured data such as free text or speech. Thus, allowing it to evaluate the robustness and veracity of the text it analyses. And I hope that during my lifetime, xtractis® will be the first intelligent robot to win a Nobel Prize for all its discoveries and all the economic, societal, scientific and technological advances it has brought to humanity.

Read more from other panellists of WIEF’s Global Discourse on A.I., Professor Anton Nijholt, and Datuk Munirah Abdul Hamid.
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Find out a little more on A.I.

April 17, 2017
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