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Artificial Intelligence offers infinite possibilities, but also great risks

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Artificial Intelligence offers infinite possibilities, but also great risks

Engineer by training, the Minister of Science and Technology of Brazil Luciana Santos At 58, she records an extensive political career: she was a provincial and national deputy, and then vice-governor of Pernambuco, the state where President Lula da Silva was born. In addition to leading a key ministry for the current government, she also presides over his political group (the PC do B). In an interview with foreign media, including Perfil, she maintained that “the race for technological dominance is one of the great variables of world geopolitics.” For her, Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers a “universe of possibilities” but also admitted the risks it presents.

In the dialogue with correspondents, he revealed that AI generates the maximum attention of the government and the president himself. “There are countless areas of application, which can lead to incredible benefits to society. But it is also true that the unequal global distribution of assets and infrastructure in Artificial Intelligence, concentrated in a small number of private companies, provokes fears about deep asymmetries of power between nations.

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According to the minister, “in Brazil today AI is being debated due to the dimension of the issue.” Its importance led the Science and Technology Council to evaluate all aspects, in order to “conclude the Brazilian Artificial Intelligence Strategy (EBIA) next June.” What is at stake is “how to use this technology for the benefit of the population, to improve people’s living conditions, preserve the environment and confront hunger and the climate crisis.”

Ideologically similar to Lula’s third government, he characterized that the world is in the presence of “extreme events”, such as wars, pandemics and climate catastrophes, which put the production of essential inputs at risk: from semiconductors to pharmaceuticals, including fertilizers. In this context, the criteria promoted by the Brazilian president are to maintain a proactive attitude in the scientific-technical area “without ideological barriers.” In his opinion, “when it comes to matters of national interest, this comes to the fore,” regardless of the positions that exist in the political field. “Today we face multiple instabilities in global geopolitics, and it is taken for granted that technological mastery is a pillar of any nation project.”

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—In the previous government, the budget for science and technology was substantially cut. Now, President Lula says that this area is one of his priorities. Is that reflected in the resources allocated to the sector?

—With the arrival of the new government there was a significant recomposition of resources for the sector. One of the instruments is the National Fund for the Development of Science and Technology, made up of a special tax paid by large production chains such as oil, gas, transportation and energy. It is our main source of financing. During the four years of the previous government (of Jair Bolsonaro) these allocations were drastically reduced; but President Lula decided to comprehensively recompose that Fund, in the second half of 2023. Today the organization is directed by a council made up of representatives from academia, the scientific community, companies and the government. And where they make the decisions to allocate the money. We have implemented six missions and 10 programs. And last year, one of them precisely dedicated itself to the recovery and expansion of the infrastructure necessary for research, to replace the blackout that existed until 2022 with very deteriorated equipment, laboratories and physical spaces.

—What do you mean by “missions”?

—These are the great purposes, which include the fight against hunger, the mechanization of family farming, the climate change agenda, the energy transition and the digital transformation. A central aspect in all this is considering industrialization on new technological bases. We cannot be, forever, among those countries that are producers of large quantities of commodities for export. This places us in a strong dependence on goods with high added value. We need to be leaders in industrial branches: to advance, for example, in strategic nuclear energy projects, as is the case of the multipurpose reactor that will give us autonomy in the production of radioisotopes. Another sector, aerospace, with decisive influence on defense issues, received more than $1 billion in 2023 for companies that operate in that field. There is also a segment, that of technologies that guarantee productivity, such as agrobusiness, where Brazil has indisputable competition with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa). And we also have leadership in the aeronautical industry, thanks to the legacy of Embraer (Brazilian Aeronautics Company). But we need greater insertion in the production of biomass and green hydrogen, in short, at the forefront of the energy transition. Another great challenge is digital transformation, which will change production relations in the world. To do this we have to overcome our deficit: bring closer scientific research, in which we occupy 12th or 13th place in published works in the world, but we are in 49th place in terms of its focus on innovation. That is the great objective; It is through there that we will achieve technological mastery. Otherwise there is a risk of maintaining the delay.

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—What importance do you assign to Artificial Intelligence?

—It is one of our work areas in the G20 digital economy group, which this year is taking place in Brazil. The vision that we have is comprehensive: it is a technology of great opportunities, but also of insecurities. It has a great impact on the world of work and requires very strong investments, as it requires a giant computing infrastructure. We are committed to digital sovereignty and, in that context, we highlight its premises: one is the role of the State; another commitment to developing sovereignty in areas of this technology related to security and privacy; that is, cybersecurity. In this scenario, the main asset moves, which is the development and implementation of data, and its regulation.

—For mastering this technology, isn’t it essential to train human resources?

—Without a doubt we must invest in human capital, a more appropriate expression than “human resources.” In the world, gigantic investments have already begun in this area: billions of dollars are allocated to training. And this in itself reveals the risk of an asymmetry both between countries and between regions; even within the same nation. Therefore, we are focused on updating the Brazilian Artificial Intelligence strategy, and presenting the plan in June. A great challenge, in this area, is the impact on the world of work. There is a very interesting study carried out by Oxford University, which points out that although AI can eliminate 20 million jobs in developed countries, until 2030, at the same time it is capable of creating at least 13 million new jobs. This will depend on training and training: manual and repetitive work can be greatly reduced and, at the same time, it will provide more time and space for preparation and formulation. President Lula demanded that we present a specific plan at the National Conference of Science and Technology. It is worth mentioning that we have a jewel in our crown: it is the superconductor Santos Dumont, which we want to guarantee that it acquires more speed in data systematization. Without a doubt, this will have repercussions on applications in health, agriculture and, for example, also in Brazil’s electrical distribution system, to reduce waste in the provision of energy.

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—You mentioned, among the challenges, those problems generated by artificial intelligence, both in network neutrality and in data protection, in privacy.

—I participated, for some years, as a federal representative in the preparation of the Civil Framework of the Internet, which we could define as an Internet Constitution. But until today the approved law has not been regulated. There is a project in the Senate referring specifically to the protection of citizens. He who, due to fake news, manipulation and misinformation, is a victim of a process of violence. We saw what happened in Brazil with the manipulations; and we see what is happening now in Argentina, with Artificial Intelligence. This forces us to hold responsible companies that not only have data in the clouds and also the ability to observe behaviors; making it possible to make speeches through WhatsApp and other networks. That can compromise democracy. That is why it is necessary to have national laws and enforce them. There cannot be a government in the world that is above national states; that they can do what they want at the mercy of their ideological concepts. That is outside any pattern. That is why we are going to be firm in the regulation of standards to combat Fake News and misinformation. Do you remember the events of January 8 of last year? It was when there was an attempt to dismiss the democratically elected government; and they achieved this with profound alterations of real events, through lies that, to become true, are repeated over and over again.

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