CITIC researcher Amparo Alonso joins the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Spain to lead the debate on artificial intelligence

10/11/2023 - CITIC
  • Her role in the Academy, which advises the Government on science policy, reinforces one of the current strategic lines of the Executive: the impact of AI on society with an ethical and sustainable approach.
  • The professor of Computer Science and AI at the University of A Coruña thus strengthens the gender balance pursued by the historic entity.

The CITIC researcher at the University of A Coruña, Amparo Alonso, has just been appointed Corresponding Academician in the Mathematics section of the prestigious and centenary Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Spain (RAC), the entity that advises the Government on scientific policy in its areas of action. The impact of artificial intelligence on society and related ethical issues is a priority for the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union. A key moment, therefore, to set criteria with the help of specialists such as the Galician professor, a reference in AI research.

The appointment means for the Galician scientist “an immense honor, but also a great responsibility because many of the most brilliant Spanish minds in these fields have belonged to this Academy and it is our obligation to maintain their legacy. The RAC also has an essential role in determining political agendas and it is important that a country’s politicians take into account the knowledge of its scientists and technologists, because it will give them the ability to make more informed decisions. The contribution of science and technology is indispensable for the progress of a society and for boosting its growth and welfare”.

Green and responsible AI

With the incorporation of Amparo Alonso, the approach to AI with an ethical approach will become part of the RAC program. Her entrance speech, scheduled for the first quarter of 2024, will be focused on the so-called green artificial intelligence, a line of work that is being promoted from different groups of the CITIC of the UDC, in tune with the National Plan of Green Algorithms of the Government. AI applied to green algorithms is a set of systems whose goal is to interpret all the data of an entity and translate them in the most sustainable, responsible and less polluting way for the planet.

There are two ways to apply this type of algorithms:

  • “Green in AI”: algorithms that are created in a sustainable way, consume fewer resources in their gestation and achieve the same result.
  • “Green by AI”: algorithms that generate a sustainable impact. These are those that relate AI by taking advantage of its potential to improve sustainability.

The promotion of AI is one of the strategic axes of the Spain Digital Agenda 2025, within which the national plan is framed. Its objective is to place Spain at the forefront of the development of a more environmentally friendly AI, supporting leading research centers and the economic fabric of our country.

In addition, just this week it has just been announced the approval of the Royal Decree that enables the Government to open the call for companies wishing to participate in the so-called AI sandbox, a test environment whose objective is to test the future European Regulation and in which, also here, Spain is a pioneer.

Galicia, on the technological map

A Coruña and Galicia are currently at the forefront of the scientific debate on AI and technological development. The headquarters of Aesia or the Cidade das TIC, together with the existence of centers of excellence such as CITIC, make the Community a pole of attraction and ICT development, both from the point of view of scientific and technological and industrial talent, arousing great interest from companies, and transfer to society.

“We must also take into account that, together with the ethical elements, the sustainability of AI is one of the priority lines of Aesia; and this helps to place our work at CITIC and throughout our network of influence, on the global technology map”, an opportunity without doubt, according to the professor of the UDC.

It is a scenario in which all the institutional agents have been involved and “we should feel proud of the work that has been developed in the UDC, in the entire Galician University System, and also of the political effort made by different bodies such as the City Council, the Provincial Council or the Xunta, joining forces. The illusion with the concession of AESIA’s headquarters was noticeable in the street and I think that this is very exciting for Galicia”.

Gender balance

Gender balance is a statutory commitment of the RAC, but “it is difficult to make progress,” says Alonso. The statutes establish a number of 72 numerary academicians, 144 corresponding academicians, and an unspecified number of supernumeraries and foreigners. At present, there are 46 numeraries, of which 8 are women (17%). In the mathematics section, there are 33 corresponding academicians, of which 5 are women (15%). So far, there has been no female President of the RAC, but at this moment the Natural Sciences section has a female president. There are also women on the Board of Directors, specifically as Secretary General. In view of the data, Amparo Alonso is optimistic in this regard: “I believe that with this statutory commitment more women will join, which is a step forward and a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole”.

Closer to society

Academic institutions have become increasingly closer to society in recent years. The RAC has been a reference in this regard with an extensive outreach program aimed especially at young people. Science for all, Science Academy in the Classroom or Promotion of Culture are some of the initiatives to approach society and, at the same time, to awaken scientific vocations.

Amparo Alonso’s extensive career as a science communicator is a new impetus for the opening up of the RAC to society, which is doing, in her opinion, “a fantastic job in the dissemination of science. I believe, however, that it is society that we need to open up a bit to science. It seems that it is not understood as culture and nothing could be further from the truth, knowledge about science and technology is important for the individual, to be able to better understand what is happening around us, what issues are true; not knowing makes us less free and more manageable”. In addition, it is important, he insists, “that we scientists can dedicate part of our time to dissemination, and it is difficult because we have more and more work not only in research and teaching, but also in bureaucracy. That is why it is essential that organizations such as the RAC take on this important work.