An AI researcher serving the environment

This text is part of the special Research section: climate issues

Born in Ukraine, raised in Toronto and trained in France, Sasha Luccioni chose to settle in Montreal 10 years ago. The Quebec adoption researcher is one of the most promising minds in artificial intelligence and she is determined to use it for the environmental cause.

Sasha Luccioni makes no secret of it, her twenties were marked by “a little existential crisis”. Wanting to make her contribution to the world around her, the multilingual researcher found a mission: to put her expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) at the service of the environment.

“After arriving on the job market, I had a little quarter-life crisis,” she remembers with a laugh. There was the climate crisis, I had lots of concerns, I wondered how I could do something positive for the climate. »

After her short stint at the American bank Morgan Stanley, the scientist joined the ranks of the Quebec Institute of Artificial Intelligence (Mila), founded by Yoshua Bengio, Turing Prize winner and authority in the field of AI. .

“It was a really important experience, both professionally and humanly,” explains the postdoctoral student in machine learning (machine learning). Yoshua Bengio is truly one of the people with the biggest heart I have met. He always kept his down-to-earth side, even with his status as an “international star” of AI. »

With Yoshua Bengio as scientific director, Sasha Luccioni worked on the project This climate does not exist. Using AI-generated images, this online tool allowed the public to see what their living spaces would look like in a world disrupted by climate change.

“With this project, the idea was to use AI to show the different possible scenarios with global warming,” she says. We wanted to shake the audience a little in order to provoke a reaction. »

After spending two years at Mila, the researcher, who studied linguistics as a baccalaureate, joined Hugging Face, a company that wants to democratize AI by promoting transparency and data sharing (open source) in the middle.

Educate the public

In recent years, artificial intelligence has made spectacular advances. The emergence of the automated conversation tool ChatGPT has captured the collective imagination.

Several experts who examine the ethical questions raised by artificial intelligence and its use argue that AI could be the key in the fight against climate change. An assertion that Sasha Luccioni corroborates, but with several reservations.

“The applications of AI in the environmental field are numerous,” she emphasizes. To give a concrete example, I worked with the Insectarium on an application that would allow visitors to take photos of insects and then identify them using AI. It’s a way of using technology to reconnect people with nature. »

However, it is difficult to escape one of the biggest drawbacks of these new technologies: their negative impact on the environment. “Yes, there is an environmental cost for any AI model, but the problem lies above all in the fact that we now want to develop it for everything,” she says, giving the example of smart refrigerators. I’m not sure we need to talk to our fridge,” says the researcher, named this year among the 35 most innovative people under 35 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

For the mother of two, it is obvious that better education about artificial intelligence would solve part of the problem. The popularization and democratization of AI are particularly close to his heart.

“AI is still very abstract for people, that’s normal. Better education would help understand that the development of these technologies has real costs and that it is not magic,” she adds.

The importance of diversity in AI

Among all the professional and social responsibilities, Sasha Luccioni is particularly sensitive to the diversity of representation in her field. For the Montrealer, this is a crucial question for the future development of AI.

“Decisions are often made by people like this, whether white men or women, who rely on their worldview to make choices,” she explains. A greater diversity of visions would make better technology, more representative of the world. »

Sasha Luccioni is also involved in the Women in Machine Learning organization, an organization that wants to celebrate and promote the work of women in AI. According to her, defending the place of women in science is still an everyday struggle.

“At conferences, it is not uncommon to see posters where the 10 featured speakers are men, while several brilliant women participate,” says the woman who often shares her thoughts on social networks.

When asked if she feels optimistic about the future of the planet despite the ecological crisis, Sasha Luccioni has a small, embarrassed smile that barely hides the complex mix of emotions she feels.

” It depends on the days. Sometimes I want to join Extinction Rebellion and tie myself to a tree, she says, laughing. But overall, I feel like I’ve found my ikigai [principe japonais qui signifie « raison d’être »] and I know that our work is important in the search for environmental solutions. »

This content was produced by the Special Publications team at Duty, relating to marketing. The writing of the Duty did not take part.

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