Artificial intelligence | The human intelligence behind AI

Artificial intelligence is a dynamic and effervescent field of research. What does the typical daily life look like for those who operate at the frontier of knowledge? The Press discussed it with a researcher who has both hands in it… but above all his brain.


Christian Gagné combines the titles. A researcher in machine learning and deep learning, he is a professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Laval University. He is also director of the Intelligence and Data Institute, in addition to holding a Canada-CIFAR Chair in Artificial Intelligence.

His statistics as a researcher testify to a spirit that is running at full speed: since 2001, he has published more than 150 scientific articles. He currently publishes at the rate of 10 or 15 articles per year. Of this number, between five and eight are more complex, more developed articles, while the other papers are more of a preliminary nature and aim, for example, to test ideas.

Like many other researchers, he also recognizes that time management is one of the biggest challenges in the profession.

With the variety of tasks to be performed, as well as the workload, time is sometimes lacking. Keeping up with the times involves a certain level of stress.

Christian Gagné, Full Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Laval University

In a typical week, he devotes an average of one day to teaching, one day to administrative tasks and three days to research.

A vocation

If he estimates that he works about fifty hours a week, Christian Gagné recognizes that this accounting does not necessarily tell the whole story.

“Research is more of a vocation than a profession. We are therefore completely immersed in our subject, which takes up a lot of space in our minds, and we do not count our hours. Beyond formal hours, at the office, my brain is always working a little. Even in the shower! »

Moreover, it is often in free time that the creative aspect of work, the gestation of new ideas, tends to bud.

“Overall, I must say that I regret not having enough time for my taste for the deep thought [réflexion approfondie]. Through emails, follow-ups, requests for funds and solicitations, it is sometimes difficult to make enough time to think more deeply. »

An intense domain

Artificial intelligence is a rapidly growing field that has changed a lot over the past decade, explains Christian Gagné.

While it used to be a field similar to other fields in computer science or engineering, today the competition is much fiercer due to the influx of funding and increased industry interest.

“For a decade, the intensity has gone up a notch, or even three or four notches, says Christian Gagné. It’s competitive, and if we don’t move fast enough, others will develop our ideas. It’s hard to stand out in a field where several researchers are exploring the same themes. »

Similarly, staying on top of new research takes constant effort.

“In AI, things move quickly and you have to read what comes out to stay abreast of recent advances,” says Christian Gagné. The field is almost overheated, so it’s intense. We’re not bored. »

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