Four pioneers of artificial intelligence honored

Mila founder and scientific director Yoshua Bengio (Photo:

MADRID – Four scientists considered pioneers in artificial intelligence, including a Frenchman and a Canadian, were honored on Wednesday with Spain’s Princess of Asturias Prize, one of the most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world, for their “extraordinary” contribution in many fields .

The French Yann Le Cun, the Quebecer Yoshua Bengio and the Britons Geoffrey Hinton and Demis Hassabis, who were jointly awarded in the Science category, would have made possible the “full integration” of artificial intelligence “into society”, estimated the jury.

“Their contributions to the development of deep learning have enabled major advances in areas as diverse as speech recognition (…), object perception, machine translation, strategy optimization, ‘protein structure analysis, medical diagnosis, and many more,'” he said.

Due to the breadth of disciplines in which these advances are applied, the “current and future impact” of their work “on social progress can be described as extraordinary,” according to the jury.

Yann Le Cun, 61, Geoffrey Hinton, 74, and Yoshua Bengio, 58, had already been awarded the Turing Prize in 2018, which is considered the Nobel Prize for computer scientists. Demis Hassabis, 45, who was named one of Time Magazine’s 2017 100 Most Influential People in the World, received the 2021 Wiley Prize for Biomedical Sciences.

In 1986, Geoffroy Hinton was the creator of backpropagation algorithms, tools that he used in 2012 to design a neural network called AlexNet capable of detecting objects with only 26% errors.

Yann Le Cun used the same backpropagation algorithms to create LeNet5 in 1989, a system that made it possible to recognize characters on bank checks, for example, with reasonable certainty.

More recently, he was one of the promoters of an image compression system that would allow digitized documents to be viewed on the Internet, a technology used by millions of people every day.

For his part, Yoshua Bengio has specialized in probabilistic sequence models, which over time have made it possible to improve speech and handwriting recognition.

As for Demis Hassabis, he founded DeepMind, a subsidiary of Google, which is developing a new artificial intelligence system applicable to research, capable of, for example, “predicting the structure of more than 350,000 human proteins,” according to the jury .

The Princess of Asturias Prizes, which have been awarded in eight categories since 1981, are endowed with 50,000 euros.

They are named after the Spanish heir to the throne, Princess Leonor, the eldest daughter of King Felipe VI. and Queen Letizia, and are handed over by the royal family at a ceremony in Oviedo, Spain, Asturias (north-west of the country) each October.

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