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Amazing AI Initiatives Lead by the University

Many problems affecting modern society can be addressed through artificial intelligence. Here are eight fascinating initiatives led by UC Chile faculty that promote the development of this discipline at the service of society.

A man is holding a tablet with an AI app.

photo_camera Many cross-cutting issues affecting society today can be addressed through artificial intelligence. Not only is AI a technological revolution, but it is also a key technology in the future development of society. (Photo by: iStock Photo)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a machine to emulate human abilities, such as reasoning, learning or creativity.

Technological systems use AI to perceive the environment and relate to it, in order to perform specific actions.

Artificial intelligence is all around us, but we barely notice it. AI is working behind the scenes in your smartphone, your Google searches, your social media, and it is also applied in medicine, and even self-driving cars.

In fact, “artificial intelligence is a key driver of the fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Vice President for Research Pedro Bouchon. “Its development and implementation helps consolidate actions related to advanced methods of machine learning, computational intelligence, adaptive and autonomous systems and the application of these in context such as computer vision.”

Many cross-cutting issues affecting society today can be addressed through AI.

Not only is AI a technological revolution, but it is also a key technology in the future development of society. This position is held by the document “Inteligencia Artificial para Chile: la urgencia de desarrollar una estrategia” (Artificial Intelligence for Chile: The Urgency of Developing a Strategy), prepared by the Senate of Chile (2019).

In this context, and according to Hans Löbel, director of the UC Chile Master's Degree Program in Artificial Intelligence and professor at the School of Engineering, universities play a key role in the development of AI. 

“[AI] should not be industry-led as there are nuances that go beyond productive matters. There are ethical and political aspects that can impact people’s entire lives. Universities must take the lead on this on behalf of Chile so as to avoid what has happened in the United States,” stated the faculty member,  in reference to large technology companies such as Meta, Twitter or Google. 

He added: “When technology that can change the outcome of elections is under the control of four corporate giants, it is very dangerous."

Artificial Intelligence at the UC Chile

According to Vice President Pedro Bouchon, Chile is a role model in this area in Latin America. 82% of the population has access to the Internet, which makes it one of the countries with the highest coverage in the region. 

Additionally, “the race for 5G, as an enabling technology for various industries, is opening up a wide range of opportunities. The Lab Claro - UC Chile 5G Innovation Center marks a milestone of collaboration between academia and the productive sector, which seeks to develop solutions and applications according to the challenges of the ecosystem.” 

The laboratory—housed in the UC Chile Anacleto Angelini Innovation Center, and inspired by the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory—aims to contribute to the collaboration between academia, industry and the public sector

Technological innovation enables companies and all types of organizations to capture, prioritize and analyze large flows of data. AI makes systematization possible, as well as managing complexity in order to facilitate decision making.

The Millennium Institute Foundational Research on Data (IMFD, as per its Spanish acronym)—recently established at the UC Chile Innovation Center—seeks to develop tools to enhance and make the country’s data usage transparent.

Some of its projects include: data collection for the study of complex social problems, the generation of robust information structures, and AI. 

These data are worked through deep learning models, i.e., a set of machine learning algorithms that model high-level abstractions.

Zippedi robot is moving through an aisle at the supermarket.
Zippedi is a robot created by a team of faculty from Universidad Católica, led by Professor Alvaro Soto of the School of Engineering, who is now director of the National Center for Artificial Intelligence (CENIA). (Photo credit: El Mercurio)

Another example of AI is the Millennium Institute for Intelligent Healthcare Engineering (iHEALTH) that UC Chile was awarded in 2021. 

This initiative will develop innovative methods that include:

  • Medical imaging 
  • Engineering 
  • Artificial intelligence

The goal is to improve medical imaging-based healthcare by making it more affordable and accessible to all Chileans.

iHEALTH brings together an interdisciplinary team of experts to tackle healthcare engineering challenges in an interdisciplinary and synergistic manner in close collaboration with hospitals, industry, and a wider national and international scientific network.

The project is led by: 

The team is also made up of investigators from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Universidad de Chile and Universidad de Valparaíso, as well as several other associated universities. They are experts in areas such as:

  • Imaging physics/engineering 
  • AI for images 
  • Signals and natural language 
  • Physiology and clinical/translational research

"Innovation and artificial intelligence are part of the same ecosystem. They are not alien realities. If there is something we humans have in common, is that we have been able to evolve by adapting to the needs of the world, which leads us to protect ourselves and to seek to be creative,” said the UC Chile Innovation Center advisor, Alfonso Gómez.

Facing the Great Challenges of Humanity

Professor Álvaro Soto is holding a CENIA conference.
Engineering professor Álvaro Soto, founder of the project that started the Zippedi robot, leads CENIA, which seeks to turn Chile into a hub of artificial intelligence. (Photo credit: CENIA)

The National Center for Artificial Intelligence (CENIA, as per its Spanish acronym), which started its activities at the beginning of this year, aims to turn Chile into the cornerstone for the development of AI in Latin America and the world.

It will enhance the country's capabilities to become a common space to scale the efforts of the different centers and universities. 

It is directed by engineering professor Álvaro Soto (in the photo), recognized for being one of the creators of "Zippedi" (a shelf-scanning robot that operates during the night at grocery stores doing stock and pricing accuracy checks, and ensuring products are in the correct location).

CENIA's area of study is broad, as is its team, made up of the following UC Chile faculty members:

  • Denis Parra, from the Department of Computer Science, who together with director Álvaro Soto explores deep learning for eyesight and language; 
  • Pablo Barceló, from the UC Chile Institute of Mathematical and Computer Engineering, who focuses on neurosymbolic AI; 
  • Professor Marcela Peña, from the School of Psychology, who together with professor Pedro Maldonado, from Universidad de Chile, researches brain-inspired AI; 
  • Paula Aguirre and Eduardo Cerpa, from the Institute of Mathematical and Computer Engineering, study physics-based machine learning.

The idea is to contribute to improving society's quality of life by addressing urgent and challenging problems in areas such as energy, urban development, climate change, health and education. 

Big Data

Alma Observatory.
As UC Chile Astrophysics Institute professor Patricia Tissera explained, astronomy is getting ready to use AI in data analysis and management. (Photo credit: ALMA) 

Founded in 2008, the Center for Excellence in Astrophysics and Associated Technologies (CATA, as per its Spanish acronym) has become the largest national entity dedicated to the research and development of technologies related to astronomy. 

And, as you would imagine, the center is already working to incorporate AI into their analysis.

"We intend to incorporate artificial intelligence more explicitly in our studies thanks to the large databases that are already being generated, but that will increase even more in the future,” explained Patricia Tissera, professor at the UC Chile Astrophysics Institute and senior researcher at CATA. Astronomy is preparing to do science in a different way, using AI techniques for data analysis and management.

Within the framework of this technological development, Ezequiel Treister, also a professor at the Institute of Astrophysics and deputy director of CATA, emphasized that "these new telescopes that have been installed in the country have led us to incorporate big data. We need it to get the most scientific benefit out of these instruments.”

Robotics and AI

An underwater robot is being tested.
 Underwater robot by engineering professor Giancarlo Troni. (Photo by: César Cortés). 

Other areas can also make use of this field, and engineering professor Giancarlo Troni, provides a great example.

He has conducted research with underwater robots to explore the ocean floor. In addition, Troni is leading a faculty team that will compete in November at the Maritime RobotX Challenge 2022 in Australia, one of the most demanding university-level maritime robotics competitions in the world.

The researchers obtained one of the nine basic Wam-V platforms that the organizers award to various teams around the world. 

“Each engineering team installs its own artificial intelligence algorithm on the vessel. The idea is for it to be able to autonomously pass a series of tests inspired by current navigation problems," explained Troni.

Portable Respiratory Monitor

A man is testing the portable respiratory monitor Chaski.
Chaski technology measures and optimizes physical endurance as part of routine training, minimizing the need for costly tests at sports clinics. (Photo by: Chaski team)

Another AI project being developed at UC Chile is a portable respiratory monitor called Chaski.

It is led by Daniel Hurtado, a faculty from the School of Engineering and the Institute of Biological and Medical Engineering. The monitor measures the physical resistance of athletes within their routine training, minimizing the need to pay for expensive tests at sports clinics.

The technology is based on the processing of respiratory activity, through machine learning algorithms (a discipline in the field of AI) that detect ventilatory thresholds, i.e., how the person is breathing and when they reach their limit. This allows athletes to adjust and optimize their pace. 

It is a pioneering technology in providing this type of analysis to athletes who cannot always access advanced studies to measure their performance.

In order to grow, this technology is supported by the UC Chile Office of Transfer and Development.

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