April 16, 2021

Mateo Valero: “Networks like Facebook are terribly harmful, they know more and more about us”

You are the architect of MareNostrum IV. What is it capable of doing?

Supercomputers are built by having many processors work together. If you have ten million, you will go ten million times faster. A supercomputer like the MareNostrum IV is a huge set of processors that allows it to exchange bits at very high speed. This technology is at the service of science and engineering. For example, in medicine they are used to analyze X-rays or medical reports because they have a lot of memory. And if we talk about climate change, these supercomputers are the only tool we have to predict what will happen. They provide models to scientists that tell them how the situation will evolve using different pollution scenarios. We have also developed software so that Repsol knows where to click to find oil in the Gulf of Mexico. And we are testing new materials. Mother Nature has made a few, but we want to make new ones, and the supercomputer allows us to simulate different combinations.

How are you helping against the pandemic?

When the coronavirus arrived, researchers from the Life Sciences department redirected their research: if they focused on cancer, now they do so on coronavirus. Both in the search for vaccines and drugs. Also weaving alliances with many other research centers, hospitals and doctors. In medicine and with the application of Artificial Intelligence, supercomputing allows us to analyze many X-rays of many types of cancer and detect things that doctors do not see. We consider it our obligation to give information to doctors so that they can decide.

What can supercomputers never be able to do that humans can?

Have common sense. A supercomputer can automatically do things that people cannot, such as reading millions of articles in a very short time and looking for connections between them. They play chess better and handle large amounts of data, but it will take them a long time to have common sense and other things typical of humans. If they ever have them.

“They build you a digital twin with your data to encourage you to buy and change your way of thinking”


Where are we going?

Supercomputers are getting more and more powerful. In the last 30 years, every ten years the speed has increased by a thousand. If they become more powerful, they can solve new problems that were not worth tackling before because they took many years to solve. For example, we already predict the weather quite well. But we need even more powerful supercomputers to predict how climate change will unfold.

How will Artificial Intelligence change our lives?

Or rather, how life has changed us already. There are positive things, like the ones I have mentioned in the medical field. Or now, in a pandemic, it has allowed friends and family to see each other through tools like Zoom. But there are others that are not positive. For example, there are networks like Facebook that are terribly harmful. I do not have because they know more and more about us, and they do it to encourage us to buy things. They build you a digital twin with your data and put you through questionnaires to find out what messages to send to make you change your way of thinking. And this is very serious.

“A supercomputer can read millions of articles and connect them together, but it will never have common sense”


Why is our data so valuable?

It has a lot of value something that can influence what you buy. They have given your data to companies and they already know your tastes. This information is worth money, and it is also a deprivation of our freedom. Not to mention when our data is also used in elections. There has been a lot of talk that Trump used the networks to win, but there is no talk that Obama won them for Google. The problem is that to be a member of social networks you have to give them your rights.

Not even a professor of Computer Architecture escapes from that?

I would like to, but no one can. I would give some guidelines. First, training in schools and in the family. Second, there must be protective laws. In Europe we have the GDPR [Reglamento General de Protección de Datos], a pioneering regulation but nobody pays attention to it. In fact, they don’t even pay the fees you would touch. I don’t use Facebook, or Instagram, or anything like that.


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