Nerea Luis is a Madrid-based computer scientist specialized in robotics. She not only works on artificial intelligence, but is also a seasoned speaker and founder of one of the biggest technology events in the city organized by students. We had the chance to ask a couple of questions to this inspiring professional.
Who is Nerea Luis? What does she specialize on? What has been her path up to now and where does she want to go?
Currently, I’m studying for my doctor’s degree at Carlos III University in Madrid. I’m finishing my thesis in the area of multi-agent planning, a brand of Artificial Intelligence that takes care of the autonomous reasoning process. Imagine a group of robots that have to solve a set of goals. My investigation tries to automatically generate high-level action sequences that can solve the problem and simultaneously the possible interactions between robots and their environment.
I founded T3chFest in 2012, a science and technology event. Since then, it has become my personal project. With a super team of students, we’ve surpassed 1,600 attendees and 80 talks in a free schedule that lasts two days.
My path began at school when I discovered the internet and developed my first website from scratch (you can read more about this in my story at @witsstories). Later, I decided to study my major in Computing in the Carlos III University in Madrid. I finished in 2013, and then began my Master’s Degree in Science and Computing, continuing up to now with my Doctor’s Degree.
About where I want to go… really, it’s just that I haven’t 100% thought about it. Research, teaching and innovation are all things that I’m passionate about, so I guess something around that path, for sure. I also want to exploit my role as a divulger. These last two years have been very satisfying when sharing my knowledge about artificial intelligence and robotics with different kinds of people.
You’re already used to giving talks, and one of the subjects you talk about is “symbiotic autonomy,” which refers to when robots need humans’ help, our help. Could you give us a quick synopsis?
Of course! The concept of symbiotic autonomy was invented by Manuela M. Veloso, a scientist and eminence of modern robotics. She created the robots competition Robocup and until a while ago she was director of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University (USA). When we met in the US in 2016, she told me about all of her research in that area. The project is called CoBot, an acronym for collaborative robot. They are simple-structured robots (a tablet, metallic chassis and a rotating base) that, because of not having arms or knowledge about some specific things, they need to ask humans how to best continue the task. Through that question game they got deep into human-robot interaction and the capacity of communicating between both.
What’s the biggest, immediate challenge you see for artificial intelligence and robotics (short-term)?
The biggest challenge is the ethical-legal one, because it will be the one to define the direction this technology takes, along with engineers, corporations and institutions’ responsibilities regarding us coexisting with these systems.
Broadly speaking, we can talk about two main parts of robotics. One is software and AI, the other has to do more with mechanics, the hardware. How do you see them relate to each other? Do you think software is more advanced, or vice versa?
Hardware in robotics has been evolving much faster than software in the last 20 years. Now, because we have low-cost materials at our disposal, mass production and relatively cheap sensors, it’s easy to build your own basic robot. On the other hand, with the open-source fever, the access to knowledge and 3D printing, projects like Arduino [an open source computer hardware and software company] have gained strength very fast.
The fact that big companies like Google, IBM or Microsoft have invested in virtual assistant, chatbots and AI libraries has decentralized knowledge and has made it accessible. One thing missing would be an appropriate legalization regarding intellectual property, treatment of data and security.
You’re founder and part of the T3chFest team in Madrid, which will celebrate a new edition. How has your experience been with this successful project, and what would you say make sit difference from other similar initiatives in Spain?
T3chFest has been the project that has made me the most proud, besides the fact that the growth in impact and community it has had during these six years has been very satisfying. Initially, it started as a help for students for them to know what can they expect out there in the professional and academic world. When we did the first edition, I was in my major’s last year in Computing. Later, with the boom of technology communities and meetups we grew, while the talks about startups and entrepreneurship also started.
I would say there are two big differences between T3chFest in contrast to other initiatives: first of all, it’s an event completely organized by students. Second, it’s free. The fact that T3chFest is organized by students gives it a different take on the talks program, more balanced and with speakers that aren’t necessarily the ones known by the tech community. Additionally, by being closer to the academic world, they value innovation and research more. The second reason is the one that allows to break any economic and psychological barrier that could stop you from attending the event. For many attendees, this is their first time and the fact that it’s free makes it easier for them to get a ticket.
And what can we expect from T3chFest 2019?
Well, another great event! We put our standards very high last year, but we’re sure that the 2019 edition will vastly surpass it. We want to give a bigger spotlight to science and divulging; the same for workshops, which sometimes have a unnoticed presence. I can’t say much more because it’s top secret, but if I were you, I wouldn’t miss it—14-15 March 2019 in Madrid.