Gérard Biau
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"Federate the forces of Sorbonne University around AI"

Interview with Gérard Biau, director of SCAI.

On June 18, 2019, Sorbonne University inaugurated the Sorbonne Center for Artificial Intelligence (SCAI). Gérard Biau, professor at the Laboratory of Probability, Statistics and Modeling, is the director. Below, he sheds light on the missions and objectives of this center of excellence dedicated to research, teaching and innovation in artificial intelligence.

Why create a center dedicated to artificial intelligence at Sorbonne University?

Gérard Biau : Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere. It is already transforming society and changing our lives. In the context of increasing international competition, the French government launched an ambitious strategy, AI for Humanity, in March 2018 with the goal of propelling France among the leaders of AI. SCAI is fully committed to this program.

Thanks to Sorbonne University’s faculties of Letters, Medicine and Sciences & Engineering, with its partners of the Alliance, has brought together considerable strength in the fundamental aspects of the AI (in mathematics, in computer science, in robotics), its applications (in health, environment or artistic creation) and in digital humanities. In total, more than one hundred experts from many laboratories are directly involved in AI research.

The aim of SCAI is to unite these capabilities in a place where the disciplines can enrich each other, share their experiences and identify common issues to advance innovative projects.

Designed as an "AI house" in the heart of Paris, the center aims to motivate, organize and make visible multidisciplinary research in AI through the establishment of chairs of excellence, support and hospitality, interdisciplinary projects, concerted responses to calls for tenders, the creation of task forces, the setting up of doctoral programs and more.

Internationally recognized experts, such as Jim Kurose, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and advisor to the US government on AI, will bring their expertise to define the strategic directions of the center.

What is SCAI's contribution in terms of education?

G. B. : The teaching needs are immense both in initial and continuing education. The government has set itself the goal of doubling the number of AI-trained students by 2022.

This is why SCAI aims to become a laboratory of ideas for educational innovation and to help structure the university's training offer in AI. The second year Master’s specialisation dedicated to learning and algorithms will open its doors in September 2019. In the bachelor’s program, a minor concentration in "AI" will soon be available to students from all three faculties at the University. In addition, we have been offering a university degree in machine learning andAI for one year in continuing education, as well as tailor-made courses for companies. We aim to perfect the training of Sorbonne University lecturers in this field.

The university also aims to participate in the development of scientific culture. How is SCAI positioned on this mission?

G. B. : Artificial intelligence raises more or less scientifically based concerns. Through seminars and regular meetings around these technological issues, SCAI is now engaging in mediation work to demystify AI among users and the general public.

By mobilizing the critical spirit and the scientific approach, the human and social sciences will be able to help us to better analyze the relations that we have with these digital upheavals and their impacts on our existence.

What relationships does the research and training center intend to maintain with the industrial world?

G. B. : The development of AI, which involves the deployment of technological objects, such as the autonomous car, will not happen without the expertise and know-how from companies. It is therefore essential to involve our industrial partners today to focus on an application transformation of AI.

To achieve this goal, we wanted to establish Chairs of Excellence that will allow us to collaborate on innovative themes with the industrial world. We have entered into a partnership with Atos and CEA on the subject of precision medicine and have signed a memorandum of understanding with Total and Thalès.

SCAI is also working with international transfer and industrial recovery centers and will be an integral part of Paris Parc, the future innovation park of Sorbonne University.

SCAI is:

  • 4 research themes: mathematics-informatics-robotics, health-medicine, climate-environment-Universe, and digital humanities.
  • More than 100 scientists, 150 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers, 300 students.
  • + 20 industrial partners (from startups to large international groups).
  • 700 square meters in the heart of Paris.
  • 1 branch location on Sorbonne University’s Abu Dhabi campus.