Are we talking properly about Artificial Intelligence?

Are we talking properly about Artificial Intelligence?

What is generally understood by Artificial Intelligence – or AI?. It is a pervasive term nowadays, that appears not only in secluded and obscure academic circles hidden from the rest of society. Most of us have, to some degree, already heard the term. AI is not just-yet-another buzzword; and it is here to stay. This is not really news: many examples of success stories of AI-based systems have been hugely popularized by media (AlphaGo, DeepBlue, Chat-GPT, to name a few). The boom of Deep Learning and its application to an extremely wide spectrum of areas have also helped masively spread the word in very recent years. Because AI is transversal; AI technology is most of the time task-agnostic. This means that AI methods are susceptible to be used to support an enormous range of very different applications and problems.

And, while this is absolutely true, there is an important gap between what AI means to people working in AI research and to people outside of it (general public, policy makers, technological companies, different economic sectors…). Don´t misunderstand me, such a gap is natural: specialists in any area have their own jargon to address subjects in a specific manner compared to non-specialists. But I also think that 1) efforts to close this gap and demystify AI can have a very positive impact, and 2) this can foster a much better ecosystem for research and innovation in all economic and societal sectors, and at local, national and international levels.

Here are my two cents on this: a large part of the gap comes from linguistics. Take this opinion with a grain of salt and draw your conclusions from the AI-based systems that you might come across.

I bet you have probably heard, whether in the news, when taking to friends, or when working on a project involving AI, a statement similar to:

"This system is an AI. This AI is intelligent. The AI does this like a human specialist would"

I have three problems with these statements, and the problems are linguistic, not technological. I will explain them from a practical point of view using an example of a system that includes AI methods in a project from the area of Health and Wellbeing at CARTIF: a robot of the Temi model (called Matías) in EIAROB project, which is a social robot that will be deployed in the homes of elderly people during the project, to help monitor and accompany them, thus enhancing the people´s wellbeing, reducing solitude, and extracting information about the people´s health status and its progression for their medical professionals. In this context, the capabilities of the Temi robot are described in the following figure.

Functionalities of Temi robot; in green those that include AI methods. Temi robot is used in the EIAROB project, in which CARTIF participates, innovating in the creation of new extensions to the robot that support the wellbeing of the elderly at their home.

The three issues that I have with the previous statements about AI are:

  1. An app or an artificial system is not and AI or an Artificial Intelligence; the app or system might include elements that use AI methods or may be based on AI; AI is a field of study, as is for example Physics, Chemistry or Biology. For example, the Temi robot is not an Artificial Intelligence; it includes elements that use AI methods (in green in the figure, such as speech recognition and generation for conversation).

  1. Saying that an artificial system is intelligent, while absolutely valid, is a language shortcut that we must be aware of. The system might use AI mechanisms, but they don´t function in the same manner as a person said to be intelligent. An effort should be generally made in trying to avoid putting human properties on artificial systems gratuitously (anthropomorphizing). For example, saying that the Temi robot is intelligent because it can maintain conversations is a language shortcut; it includes AI (Natural Language Processing) methods that are able to interact in plain language with humans, but these methods are actually statistical, and are not an actual representation on how humans process language in their brains.

  1. An AI-based system delivers a function. It is possible that the system includes mechanisms, methods or algorithms that are inspired, mimic or model how humans would approach the problem. But ultimately, the system does not use the same process that humans use. It contains elements that might have been designed thinking of how humans would approach a problem (for example, based on math, statistics, logic or computations), but they make abstractions and approximations and, as such, cannot be said to do things the way humans do. For example, some of the mechanisms used by Temi robot to talk with humans are based on artificial neural networks, which is a set of AI mathematical and statistical methods that allow to recognize and generate language in the conversation. Such artificial neural networks methods, in their inception (1950s-1970s), were very loosely inspired by how neurons work in the biological brain, but do not aim to reproduce it.

These factors will not change the way AI-based systems are created , but they could change the way we think of AI-based systems. Thus, rather that speaking of “Artificial Intelligences” as systems, I advocate for talking of “systems with AI methods” or “AI-based systems”, and consciously trying to be clear and specific when speaking of AI. Let´s not forget that the purpose of any artificial system is to have a positive impact in people´s lives. People should be at the center of all engineering efforts; consequently, AI-based systems should be thought of as tools to support people and be understood as such.

In CARTIF, we work on a wide spectrum of projects that involve applied AI for different purposes, and at every step of our R&D&I efforts we keep our eyes on the goal of creating or improving processes that ultimately will serve people and society. As such, the systems that we create and develop in these projects are systems with AI methods, or AI-based systems, but they are not “Artificial Intelligences”.

It´s my life and I want to keep deciding about it

It´s my life and I want to keep deciding about it

Since the beginning of the times they exist few things that we know they are going to happen with totally security. The world is full of happenings and alleatory events very difficult to predict, even for our partner artificial intelligence, which often seems to be a kind of panacea that can solve everything.

However, it exists something that I guarantee you its going to happen, and in a certain way, it is happening at this moment. We are getting old. Inside our life cycle, time goes by as we live through experiences, complete milestones and achieve goals. This time, even if we don´ t want it, little by little leads to a decline in both physical and physcological abilities, to the extent that perfoming daily tasks within the household is a real challenge, and sometimes even dangerous. At this moment doubt arises, am I looking for someone to help me or am I looking for a residential centre to live in?

For much people, their house is their independence symbol. Their house is that place where they can impose their own rules and were they don´ t have to be accountable to anyone. According to a study realized in 2020, in Spain exists around 4,849,900 people living alone, and inside this data, more than 2 million have 65 years or more. This is the 43.6% of the total. However, the odd thing of this statistic isn´ t only the high number of elderly that lives alone, but that this percentage has increase in a 6.1% compared to previous year. Therefore, it´ s assume that the tendence of society is living alone once you reach 65 years.

home automation

However, as I started to explain at the beggining of this post, it arrives a moment in which remembering some easy tasks, as it can be taking medicines at the right hour, can be difficult or even frustrating, and failure to remember can lead to a dangerous situation. With all these, it would be interesting counting with a person or system that reminds us taking medicines at time if we haven´ t, or remind us that we have to eat if we have forgotten, but without “annoying” us during the rest of day. This could involve a topic that is very much in vogue nowadays, home automation.

We could say that we start talking about home automation in the 70s, with several building automation pilot tests, but it was not until the 80s when it started the development of a commercial level for its distribution in urban households. At present, without going too much into standards and technological aspects, the following breakdown can be made within such a large branch as home automation:

  • Sensorization and data collection (If this occurs): It´ s about the first stage to have into account inside our home automation system. What we want to do is to collect data and events inside our household. We want to know if the street door has open for knowing if we have been robbed, our house temperature in case the heating needs to be turned on or presence in a certain room so that light is switched on automatically. All these can be reached thanks to technology, that monitorize the status of our household through a sensors network that measures physic parameters, as temperature, humidity or luminosity.
  • Actuators and implementers of action (then do this): Once we know what has occured inside the house, would come into play the second stage, we indicate to a socket switching on an electrodomestic, for example, or to a little engine to open up a door or window.
home automation

With all these, it is understood that people carried out their daily tasks following more or less established patterns. For example, a person entering his bathroom, closes the door and thereafter humidity inside the room starts increasing over standard levels, it can be deduced that it is taking a shower. Another example could be that is lunchtime and the temperature in the area were glass ceramic hob is located starts to increase, at the same time as the fridge and the drawers containing the species are opened. It can then be deduced that the person is cooking. Therefore, it is possible to track the tasks performed by an elderly person living alone using a home automation network that collects the events occuring in the house and an artificial intelligence (such as a neural network) that processes this data. Once the data acquisition stage has been completed, it would be interesting to integrate this information with the different telecare systems in the region. In this way, depending on the daily activities that are detected (or, alternatively, undetected), the telecare system can provide suggestions to the person or, if a dangerous situation such as a fall is detected, intervene in person.

From the Health and Wellnes area of CARTIF we seek to offer solutions so that older people can live as fully independently as possible for as long as possible. For this reason, one of our research lines it is focused on the contain of this post so that older people could stay at their homes in a totally operative and safe way. The theme that has been treated about home automation will serve to provide support facing the decrease of both physical and sensorial abilities. However, we are also working on solutions to improve the autonomy in households facing the physical deterioration through the development of technological assistants for the use of toilet and intelligent walkers.

To sum up, I want to emphasise that is very important to take care of the wellnes of our elderly and provide solutions that allow them to be fully active and to enjoy a healthy mind. Wether we like it or not, time is passing for all of us.

Extending the years of life in a natural way

Extending the years of life in a natural way

Oddly enough, old age is a relatively new phenomenon in western society. Since the XIX century when, thanks to the progress of the industrial and scientific development, increases the number of old people and their life expectancy, but at the same time increase the discrediting of old age. As the number of elderly people in society increases considerably, they attain a higher level of social representation that gives them public and political significance. And an important point is that, if we have luck, ´ and I wish to every one that read this post, we are going to live a long old age.

The society in which we live currently pressures and marginalises socially people with good physic and intelectual conditions on the basis of numeric age, and however exolts youth. On the one side,demands the elderly being dynamics, but at the same time demands them a moral code and clothes obligations, the appereance and repression in the sexual field.

Life models have been developed for the elderly that have not been fully taken on board by them, and they have not been involved in their design.

In spite of what is happening in nowadays society at a global level, there are areas on the planet in which being a elderly it is consider as a source of knowledge and that can bring value to society. In these parts of the world, people live longer in a simple way, realizing greatfull physic activities as walking or gardening, waking up with a sense of purpose every day, choosing wisely the food that they are going to eat and maintaining a solid and narrow relationship both with family and friends. These regions of the planet are calle “Blue Zones”, these regions were identified by cientifics and demographs who have found that the specific local characteristics and the practices give rise to a high incidence of longevity1 cases.

The five regions identified to be fulfilled with these requirements are:

  • Cerdeña, Italy (specifically Nuoro province and Ogliastra).
  • Okinawa island, Japan.
  • Loma Linda, California, researchers studied a group of Seventh-day Adventists, who are among the longest-lived in the United States.
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
  • Icaria, island from Greece near the Turkish coast.

Researchers who have been studying these zones have summarised the factors that determine their existence in two ways:

  1. The health: the inhabitants of these areas practice moderate exercise regularly, they eat a high amount of plant base products, drink alcohol, but not excessively, and practice Hara Hachi Bu, japanese concept which involves eating until you are 80% satiated.
  2. The social sector: the inhabitants of the blue zones realize rituals for reducing the stress, pray, naps, tee ceremonies. They have reasons for standing up every morning, they participate in colective activities with environments that promote healthy habits. Also, they construct and maintain healthy links with people of their family and communitary environment and developed colective spiritual or religious practices.

Inside the area of Health and Wellness of the CARTIF technology centre, our purpose is in line with the aim of helping older people to be able to choose to live in a full and autonomous way as long as possible while still being able to contribute value to the community.In this way, older people can stop thinking of them as a burden, and enable new concepts in which older people became a social active. From this purpose arise in CARTIF the active participation in different entities in which we work aligned with this objectives, such as the participation in the Innovative Solutions for Independent Life Cluster (SIVI Cluster), Castilla y León Health Cluster (Biotecyl Cluster) and the active participation in the Digital Innovation Hub in Silver Economy of Zamora (DIHSE) which is going to present as a candidate to join the european grid o European Digital Innovations Hubs.

This initiative is important because the Silver Economy Digital Innovation Hub (DIHSE) seeks to be the “unic window” through which, SMEs, start-ups and other public or private entities could access to the information, services and facilities who need to address with success their processes of Digital Transformation aimed at promoting a Silver Economy (citizenship over the age of 50 years) efficient.

The mission of DIHSE is to help SMEs of the care sector, Silver Tourism and agri-food, as well as the local public adminsitrations, of our castellano-leonesa community; in their digitalization processes and offer access to the last knowledge and technologies, being also a link between, a door to collaboration between different regions for the digital innovation.

We are conscious that actually the basic biological needs of the old people are largely satisfied thanks to the advances in science and medicine and with this labour we can be certainly proud, but for giving sense to life the biological needs aren´ t enough.

Help the proliferation of blue zones to other parts of the planet it must be one of the objectives to take in count by the society, the basic investigation and the applied investigation can do their bit in this respect.

From CARTIF we are working on the development of solutions that add value to people´´ s quality of life at the same time while integrating them into social and health care processes involving professionals. A new technological development that is not integrated in the processes in a functional way or that interoperates digitally with other solutions is an island that add a reduce value or it is not sustainable in time.

To be a little more specific, the Wellness and Health area, counts with two investigation lines that pursue improving different quality aspects in the support of the clinic decision and other lines that focus on robotics with different aims.

  • Support to the socio-care decision of the professionals and users through (biomedic signal processing, Machine Learning as well as Support to the management decision (interoperability based in standars, discrete modelling in processes or Digital Twin) with projects as ISA (study of a framework of socio-care interoperability), IDEALNET (Cross-border innovation network on early diagnosis of leukaemia for healthy ageing).
  • Social Interaction Robotics, in projects such as AIROSO and UNO MÁS that are in execution. We are working on the development of the companion robotics. In strength interaction of men-robot (rehabilitation, tonification) with projects such as THERMES (study of technologies for the development of rehabilitation robots), SHAREM (development of modular mechatronic solutions of accessible cost for rehabilitation and tonification) and IDET (development of a therapy development environment for professional therapists without extensive knowledge of software development).
  • Development of technical solutions that allow improving the authonomy capacities of the people at their homes. In the PROCURA project we develop an intelligent walker and a technological assistant for the use of the toilet.

Our commitment is strong and we hope at some point to be able to replicate the blue zones for the wellnes of our elders.


The new paradigm we are waiting

The new paradigm we are waiting

New technologies bring important changes in all sense of humanity life. Specifically, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to change the very meaning of the concept of ‘human being’ and even the concept of work, which has always been so closely linked to us.

The ‘Episteme’ is a term reformulated by Michel Focault in the 20th Century and consists of knowledge linked to a temporary ‘truth’, imposed by the power of the time in which it is generated. Therefore, people who are outside this time frame of knowledge will have serious difficulties to understand or conceive it.

The concept of humanity, held in the theocentric view of the world during much of the Middles Ages, in which everything revolved around God, was totally different from the anthropocentrism that emerged from the Renaissance humanism of the 15th Century. In the first case, man is a tool for the glory of God, who is measure of everything in the universe. But, from humanism, man will be the centre of everything and from him it will be from which you are going to classify, measure and evaluate the universe. Since then, all the phenomena and elements that appear and stop appearing are related to us.

Let’s put ourselves in the position of the existence of an alien race. If this race had manifested itself before us in the Middle Ages, we would have related their existence to some divine design, we would have included them in the category of angels or demons. Currently, the same fact would be interpreted by and for us. What benefits would be arrival of these stellar neighbours bring to earth? What threat would it pose to us? Would they look like us? Could we take advantage of them or establish peaceful relations? As we are the top of the intellectual pyramid, will they repeat our behaviour and subdue us if they have superior technology?

Something similar happens with the concept of ‘work’. The work has gone from being ‘God’s punishment of man for original sign’ to ‘a way of honouring God’, and currently, the work is theoretically linked to terms such as ‘passion’ or ‘vocation’.

Currently, considering many paid human legal activities as work is difficult, such as Content Creator on Youtube, Social Media Manager, Influencer, etc. And not to mention the ethical and moral debates about clones as human being or not. The episteme is changing, but, as it has happened throughout history, we are resisting the evidence, two concepts that for us have been fundamental for last centuries, and that are beginning their decline. Humanity is no longer just superior intelligence, four limbs and a brain, a clone can also have four limbs, and intelligence, as we currently measure it, is far surpassed by a computer.

With work is the same story, not only must it be in tune with people’s values, but there must also be continuous motivation, with incentives that go far beyond mere economic retribution, everything points to the new concept of ‘work’ will not be linked to a specific place, but rather to objectives to be met. Until now, the challenge of the world of work consists on that people, through several training steps (school, degrees, courses, masters, etc.) try to adapt to what the labour market offers, but what if in the future, people train for themselves through their natural talents generates wealth? Who knows? It won’t be many years before we see the new episteme of work.

Ideas change according to the time of the people who develop the, so it is worth wondering if we are going to participate in those changes that will eventually end up being imposed, or if, on the contrary, we will be watching as mere spectators watching the world continue its course while we cling to nostalgia for the past, for when humanity and work defined us as people.

The passage of time

The passage of time

It is curious how, at the moment we find ourselves, our sense of time has been so disrupted due to the confinement to which the entire population is subjected.

Humanity has developed all kinds of tools that allow us to feel we have everything under control. That is why the most common way to corroborate the passage of time is the use of the clock. But right now, is the clock really that reliable? And, if so, Why does time seem to pass so slowly? What if the clock is just another of the illusions invented by humanity to appear to control something as intangible as time?

Time is much more than a number, time must be lived and felt in order to experience its passage. Our perception of time is very subjective and maintains a close relationship with the emotional situation that we now endure. Most of us have noticed at some point in our lives how the speed of time is a variable factor linked to our emotions. In comfortable situations the time flies by, when we do some pleasant or new activity, when we are motivated or when we are at the top of tasks. The opposite happens when we are having a bad time, when we are impatient or in any uncomfortable situation, such as being in danger or when we are bored. Also, special mention to the slowness of the time when we are paying attention to it, that is, when we keep an eye on the passage of the minutes, for example, when doing sports or going to the gym.

The previous observations lead us to understand the importance of how the subjective assessment we make of the perception of time influences this in our lives. Ramón Bayés (El reloj emocional; Barcelona: Alienta Ed. 2007), encourages us to examine the elements that influence this perception, as it is important for our mental health, ‘managing internal time, that is, the time we subjectively appreciate, it is very important to achieve well-being’. We are in constant war with time, sometimes wishing it would go faster and sometimes slower. What we have to ask ourselves in these cases is what subjective factors motivate us to have an expectation about how time should pass. That is, asking ourselves what emotions lead us to think that time is passing very slowly or very fast, and once identified, focus on these because it is what we have, time will never be in our hands. In this way we also help control the emotional alarms of the brain that can generate a state of stress that can seriously harm our health. Remember that stress releases hormones such as cortisol and one of the consequences of this is the depression of the immune system, a system that today more than ever is convenient for us to keep it as healthy as possible.

On World Health Day, #stayhome but do it in a healthy and active way

On World Health Day, #stayhome but do it in a healthy and active way

April 7 is World Health Day. It is paradoxical that this year we will celebrate it confined due to a global pandemic. However, although #Istayhome, life goes on and we cannot let our guard down when it comes to health.

Each of us associates the fact of being at home with different habits: some to tranquillity and rest, others to domestic tasks, others to family. Whatever your situation, there are no excuses to do it in a healthy and active way.

Let’s put ourselves in situation with some data from the 2019 health profile in Spain published by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development):

  • Spain is the EU country with the highest life expectancy: 83.4 years in 2017, which is 2.5 years above the EU average. Spaniards today can expect to live an additional 21.5 years after reaching the age of 65, 1.5 years more than the EU average. This increase in life expectancy was mainly caused by a considerable reduction in mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases, although mortality from Alzheimer’s disease increased as a consequence of the increase in life expectancy.
  • Spain has some of the lowest mortality rates from preventable and treatable causes, indicating that public health and healthcare interventions are, in some cases, effective. However, much remains to be done as estimates suggest that more than a third of deaths in Spain can be attributed to risk factors associated with behavioural habits, including tobacco use, poor diet, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle (see figure).
Figure: Percentages of deaths in Spain and in the EU attributed to behavioural risk factors. Source: IHME (2018), Global Health Data Exchange (estimates correspond to 2017)
  • In the case of smoking, an anti-smoking law was adopted in 2005 and was strengthened in 2010. The 2010 law strengthened the rules on the retail and advertising of tobacco products; increased protection for minors and non-smokers by expanding smoke-free zones to all public places; and promoted the application of smoking cessation programs, especially in primary care. At the same time, taxes on cigarettes were increased, by 3% per pack of cigarettes in 2013 and by 2.5% more in 2017, along with a 6.8% increase in taxes on rolling tobacco. All these measures have contributed to the fact that smoking rates have decreased in the last fifteen years. However, more than one in five Spanish adults (22%) continued to smoke daily in 2017, representing a higher proportion than the EU average (19%).
  • Regarding overweight and obesity, the data is even more alarming. In 2005, the NAOS Strategy, managed by the Spanish Agency for Consumption, Food Safety and Nutrition, aimed to curb the increase in obesity in the Spanish population. This was reinforced by the Food Safety and Nutrition Law adopted in 2011, also with the aim of reducing overweight and obesity in children, prohibiting foods and beverages with a high content of saturated fatty acids, salt and sugar in schools and, more broadly, tightening the regulations on children’s menus. Recently, work has been carried out to establish a set of indicators that allow evaluating progress in their application and for the execution of health promotion activities in the area of nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention (AECOSAN, 2019). In 2018, the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare announced new measures to reinforce the NAOS Strategy and, among them, an initiative on a new labelling on the front of packages using the Nutriscore model. Using an easy-to-understand colour code (based on a “traffic light” approach), this initiative aims to provide citizens with more accurate information on the nutritional quality of food, although this measure has not yet been applied. In early 2019, the Ministry also signed an agreement with almost four hundred food companies that committed to reducing the content of saturated fatty acids, salt and added sugars in their products. However, the effects so far seem modest. In fact, the obesity rate has increased among adults, which may hinder progress in reducing cardiovascular mortality and other related causes of death: one in six Spaniards suffered from obesity in 2017 (17%), a increase compared to the figure of one in eight in 2001, also above the EU average (15%). This increase is related to poor physical activity among adults, as well as unhealthy nutritional habits: only about 35% of adults reported eating at least one vegetable a day. The same situation is found in the child-youth population. According to the PASOS study (2019), 14.2% of the child-youth population is overweight and obese as measured by BMI and 24.5% have abdominal obesity. The prevalence of childhood obesity has grown in the last two decades: 1.6% according to BMI and 8.3% according to abdominal obesity.

We cannot ignore the data. A healthy and active lifestyle contributes to our quality of life expectancy. Some basic recommendations:

  1. Move, live an active life: go up the stairs, go to work on foot or by bike whenever possible, choose games that involve movement to do with your children, dance, etc.
  2. Eat calmly: follow your feeling of satiety and not your emotions (avoid eating due to boredom, anxiety, etc.). Limit ultra-processed food (you can read further in the post: Realfood, fad or is it here to stay?). Include fruits and vegetables in all your intakes. Give priority to whole carbohydrates over refined ones. Vary the food every day. Eat quietly and if possible, in company.
  3. Hydrate yourself regularly throughout the day.
  4. Exercise daily: dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to the physical activity that you like the most and vary it.
  5. Rest and sleep between 6 and 8 hours a day.
  6. Spend time on activities you like: reading, walking, writing, dancing, painting, photography, movies, meditating, talking to someone who inspires you, etc.

Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits should be an ever-present motto in our lives, but it becomes essential in difficult situations like the one we are experiencing. It is at these times when initiatives like #AlimentActivos from FIAB (Federation of Food and Beverage Industries) take on special relevance. It is a website where they give us tricks and ideas, pose challenges for us and provide us with scientific data and information to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

Do not forget that, through social networks, you can follow a multitude of profiles that inspire us in matters of healthy eating and cooking, physical exercise at home, how to maintain good mental health, as well as stay positive and relaxed.

At CARTIF, #westayathome exercising #health.