Mexico’s government needs to create an artificial intelligence (AI) agency, charged with fostering innovation in the field, as well as a clear science and technology policy to harness the country’s innovation potential, according to panelists at a recent conference in Mexico City.
“We need to create an economy of creativity, of problem solving,” Julián Ríos, the CEO and co-founder of Mexican biosensor company Higia Technologies, the creators of Eva, a bra that can detect cancer by analyzing thermal patterns in the breasts, said during a panel discussion on AI at the Inteligencia México Conference earlier this month.
“Programmers will not lead innovation, but scientists, and Mexico has a lack of training of such people, and it needs to inculcate that culture, or there will also be a brain drain to foreign companies if opportunities are not created by companies in Mexico,” he said.
Ríos, who created the Eva bra two years ago at the age of 17 after seeing his mother battle breast cancer, and who has since opened clinics to attend to breast cancer patients, won a Global Student Entrepreneur Award in 2017 while still a student at the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey.
‘You can’t do anything without data’
“The change will begin in the education system, and Mexico is lacking information,” he said, recounting that the biggest challenge he has faced in his work developing Eva has been overcoming insufficient data deduction and analyses by implementing neural networks that accurately analyze data results.
“You can’t do anything without data, and access to data is fundamentally important to the growth of the public and private sector innovation.”
“Mexico needs to give data to companies that can use it for innovation,” he said, explaining that Mexico’s state-run, centralized healthcare provider, the IMSS, creates data that needs to be harnessed.
“If companies and the government had access to that data, we could be a superpower in innovation, but the IMSS does not have its data digitized. We need data to innovate, and fostering innovation is crucial.”
He added that Mexico also needs to create more open source tools to foster innovation.
“We’re not interested in making money, but in generating an accumulation of data, with which we can innovate,” he said, by creating AI that can positively impact people’s lives, citing his cancer-detecting bra as an example, with which “we are empowering women to take control of their health, and which is particularly important in rural communities, where women are the breadwinners”.
He also scotched fears that AI will lead to job losses.
“It is science fiction that robots will replace humans. Autocorrect on Whatsapp is an example of AI’s potential unreliability,” he said. “But AI can also create new industries, and which will create new jobs.” These activities, over time, accumulate into fostering greater innovation.
New tools, new jobs
Aldo Luévano, the creator of Roomie Bot, an open-tool robot that can be “trained” to perform a variety of tasks, also highlighted the opportunities AI can bring.
“Robots will impact the laborious and repetitive tasks carried out by humans, increasing companies’ competitiveness,” he said during the panel discussion.
“Professions such as call center work is being replaced by chatbots, as well as such tasks as salary management, which gives companies the opportunity to delegate simple questions to chatbots and upskill their workers to carry out more complex tasks.”
“AI is digitization, putting disruptive tech into the hands of consumers. AI will bring new tools and, in turn, new jobs.”
RoomieBot invites users to be creative by finding new uses and applications for it, creating a robotic ecosystem, and which Mexico needs more of, he said.
Among the robot’s early adopters are clients such as Bayer, Steelcase and Mexico’s communications and transport ministry (SCT).
“Mexico’s government needs to be aware of the need to implement AI. Many professions in Mexico are still manual, and so there is rejection of the use of new technology, because it is perceived as threatening jobs,” he said.
“Mexico is the third-largest robotics power in the world,” he said, citing the fact that Mexican students and entrepreneurs have been the recipients of important awards in the field, such as the 2018 World Educational Robot contest, held in Shanghai in December, in which a Mexican team won the gold medal.
“However, projects need to be made attractive to investors, and which can be monetized and exported,” he said.
“We need to protect jobs, and we need to regulate and govern. The critical point of success is creating disruptive tech, but the sector needs regulations.”
Mexico’s government, which took office in December, announced budget cuts to the country’s science and technology council (Conacyt) in May, but which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended as being intended to cut excessive expenditure, as part of his austerity drive to streamline government operations, and which would not affect the council’s budget for research and development.
‘Contributing to the development of society’
“Mexico has always been a country that evolves and adapts, and AI will come as a complement to processes, allowing companies to make better decisions based on data,” according to Arturo Campos, chief scientist at GiGaLiFi, a company that develops technology harnessing the use of light fidelity (LiFi) for the transmission of data via light rather than radio frequencies.
“Mexico needs a national agenda on AI, to create an institute or agency that promotes its development, and in turn, innovation. The government needs to harness young talent and new thinking,” he said.
“Scientists and engineers are seeking to transcend by contributing to the development of society and focus on fostering innovation. AI can contribute to creating a better society, to making better decisions, and generating better lifestyle patterns,” he added, citing the creation of smart cities, for example, and implementing actions such as monitoring and responding to electricity demand.
“AI will position us in a further state of evolution, and will bring new innovation that we can’t envisage today,” he said.
“It is regrettable that Mexico does not have a science and technology policy, and we have to try and convince the government to foster innovation for the good of the country, otherwise the talent will migrate to companies abroad.”