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22 Nov, 2021 10:51

Human-centric technology development in focus at Sber’s AI Journey conference

A new ultra-fast supercomputer has been unveiled at the AI Journey 2021 conference, one of the key events in Russia’s Year of Science and Technology, bringing together leading AI and data science experts, as well as businessmen.

The three-day Artificial Intelligence Journey 2021 conference by Sber took place on November 10-12. First held six years ago, the conference grew into a major international forum in the field of AI and data science.

In 2020, it became one of the largest events in the field, with nearly 30,000 registered participants and over 30 million views of the conference panels’ streams, Sber’s First Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board Alexander Vedyakhin told reporters.

“Six years ago, we began with a narrow-circle gathering of data scientists, with some 600-800 people in attendance. Compared to today’s figures, it was a narrow circle indeed,” Vedyakhin said. 

The field has become increasingly more popular since then. Aside from engineers and those directly involved in the development of technology, it has been entered by the representatives of business, state and science.

The first day of the conference (watch the recorded stream here) revolved around business and AI development issues, as well as the role of artificial intelligence in Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) and sustainable development, bringing together experts, scientists and businessmen.

The use of AI can drastically speed up the path to sustained development goals, Alexander Vedyakhin told reporters, citing findings by Swedish researchers. The use of AI is capable of boosting the achievement of environmental goals by 90%, social goals by some 80% and economic ones by some 70%, and also provides lucrative business opportunities, Vedyakhin noted.

“The whole market of AI solutions for ESG, according to PwC company, is estimated to value over $5 trillion before 2030. It’s an enormous amount of money that, obviously, will attract both investors and those seeking to enter this area of business,” he said. “Thus, our session was not only theoretical and humanitarian, but it had a very large practical part.”

Day two of the conference was dedicated to the latest AI solutions, with Sber unveiling its new AI products, including its second supercomputer, Christofari Neo. The new supercomputer is nearly twice as powerful as Sber’s first supercomputer ‘Christofari.’ The computers are named after Nikolai Christofari, the 19th-century civil servant and first-ever client of Sberbank.

The new machine boasts performance of almost 12 petaflops – the capacity to perform floating point operations per second. The supercomputer also has 80Gb operative memory, enabling it to process very large amounts of data.

“The Christofari Neo supercomputer will allow Sber to bring the speed of model learning to a new level, which will open up new opportunities for us in the implementation of breakthrough services and products utilizing the most advanced technologies,” David Rafalovsky, CTO/CIO and Global Head of Operations & Technology of SberBank Group and Executive Vice President of SberBank said during the conference.

The culminating third day of the event was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who took part in a panel discussion moderated by CEO and Chairman of the Sberbank Executive Board Herman Gref. Putin considers mastery of AI technologies to be crucial for global competition in the 21st century, and once said that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

During the panel, Putin stressed that Russia must find a balance between cutting red tape and giving AI developers better access to anonymized big data accumulated by state bodies and protecting the privacy of its citizens.

“Why is it that a person’s data is owned by commercial financial institutions providing services rather than the person themselves?” he wondered. “If a citizen has full right to manage all the data about himself or herself, it would be his or her decision to share that data with this or that company or bank.”

The discussion was attended by young researchers who participated in the Artificial Intelligence international Junior Contest. Their proposals ranged from an app for automatic translation of speech into sign language to a scanner detecting ‘deepfake’ filters used by scammers to an assistant, which could rephrase school problems so that its context matched a student’s personal interests, boosting motivation to study.

Gref said technological breakthroughs that Sber and other large Russian companies seek to achieve in AI research will help them become more human-centric.

The future technological advancement depends on our active engagement of younger people. We all, large companies participating in the AI Alliance, will do everything to fulfill our social mission and meet your continued requests to put humans in the focus of technological development.

“We used to offer to the market whatever goods and services we knew how to provide. Now, with the help of AI, we can make our businesses truly human-centric and try to offer swift, accessible and cheap services, which our clients may have not even dreamed about yesterday,” he said.

Gref said that “we are at a point in technological and economic development in our country when, with the support from yourself and the government of the nations, I see no obstacles that would prevent us from achieving our goal – making Russia one of the leaders in AI technologies and economic growth in general.”

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