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Cédric Villani
Friday March 31st, 2017

In conversation with Cédric Villani

Pioneering mathematician, Fields medal recipient, and director of the Henri Poincare Institute – Cédric Villani was our guest at the Rythm offices in Paris.

Our co-founder and CEO, Hugo Mercier and Cédric engaged in an hour long discussion, followed by a Q&A with the Rythm team.

In this post, we are sharing a snapshot of Cédric’s thoughts on machine learning, sleep, education, and other topics. Enjoy and please subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about our upcoming product, Dreem.

Do you see artificial intelligence as a threat or as an opportunity?

Today, even if artificial intelligence methods are impressive, they remain ineffective when compared to the human brain.

We need to remind ourselves that the starting point on artificial intelligence is relatively old. It started at the same time as modern computer science in the middle of the 20th century. For a long time, not a lot of progress was made. It is only when the power of statistics became more efficient that we started to make some steady progress.

AI is growing so much now that we can no longer pretend that it doesn’t exist. There is also fear that artificial intelligence will escape from our control. In reality we are far from that. Today even if artificial intelligence methods are impressive, they remain ineffective when compared to the human brain. They consume enormous power, they need to see the data an enormous amount of time, and finally, unlike humans, they can be fooled on various ways.

I can see how artificial intelligence can be a threat to economics or to society if some players possess the technology and others do not. Therefore there is risk of some competitive advantage. We saw the impact of this very recently in the promotion of the Brexit or in the promotion of Donald Trump.

What do you see are the biggest challenges of education?

“Education is still based on the relationship between the teachers and the students.”

We see very rapid changes in the society with an increasing role of technology and this is certainly impacting education. However, education is still based on the relationship between the teachers and the students. Artificial intelligence might help or replace the teacher one day. Yet, so far, experiments conducted to put a dose of artificial intelligence in our teaching methods have been disappointing. A few years ago, mooks and online teaching were predicted to disrupt the educational system. Today they remain as a very small portion of the education system. The reason is that they don’t work better and they are not cheaper. They are a few interpretations about why the current systems are not efficient as they should be:

  • Education still remains a very human to human system. For instance, if you don’t have real people who help and motivate the students, you see students dropping out. The human factor remains very strong.
  • So far the systems are not personalized enough. We might reach a point when, like in the movie “Her”, the system is a reflection of your feelings, detects on which topics you are weak and can understand how to make your grow.
  • Finally, so far the technology has not proven to be a great addition to the classroom: it creates a lot of distraction and doesn’t help with concentration and attention.

What are your thoughts about the importance of sleep and of our product, Dreem?

“So many people suffer from bad sleep and there have to be better solutions …”

Sleep is very important when it comes to consolidating the learnings of the previous day. So many people suffer from bad sleep and there have to be better solutions than the current clinical solutions. The Dreem technology is going towards personalized medicine which many experts expect to be a revolution and where current methods of artificial intelligence will rightfully play a role.

Progress on brain observation and clever experiments is a field where new technologies are making a revolution. For example, The Academy of Medicine is currently studying how personalized medicine applies to cancer fields. Rythm, with Dreem, is really well positioned to play a role in that field.

What keeps you going?

There is no rational explanation in the work of researchers! There is an inner fire and an inner motivation that is irrational. You deeply feel it is your duty, that you have to go on and do it.

What do you do when you are stuck on a problem?

There is no universal recipe. You’ll discuss a lot, think about it day and night, work on it. Sometimes illumination occurs in unexpected ways or places. It might take you to walk in the nature, or simply cross the street! First you must prepare your brain in such a way so that both of your conscious and subconscious brain work with you and immerse in the problem. I personally also work a lot with music.

Is there difference in the way we teach mathematics in Europe and in the US?

The single biggest difference between the US and the European system is the notion of reward and punishment. A teacher in the US will spend all her / his energy motivating the students. In Europe, the teachers will invest in saying that you could do better. As a result, student is the US can be very overconfident when European students can be very subdued.

In terms of mathematics, students are less afraid about mathematics in the US but this field is not as demanding as in Europe. Each system has his big benefits and negatives. We should draw the best of both.

Cédric Villani supports the Rythm project and its team in the mission of helping people to sleep better. In our civilized world, sleep deprivation has become an epidemic and it is now a global crisis.

Lack of sleep is often the culprit behind anxiety, stress, depression and a myriad of other health problems with symptoms ranging from problems to fall asleep, insomnia, sleep apnea to acute cases of burnout.

Rythm is building the only active and complete sleep solution that merges the latest and greatest in neuroscience research and advanced technology: Dreem. It’s almost here and it’ll transform the way you understand and influence your sleep. Be the first to know.

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