InSight: Q&A with Hernán Aguirre, Ph.D. Expert in Evolutionary Computation
Hernan Aguirre has spent 20 years in Japan. When he left his native Ecuador, he hoped to return in the near future. However, he devoted his life to research in an unexplored field of science: evolutionary computation, something he had never thought about doing in Ecuador. Now he hopes to be finally able to collaborate in our country. Hernán answered some questions related to his field of research and shared his vision on the progress of applied sciences in the country.
Yachay Tech (YT): What is evolutionary computation?
Hernán Aguirre (HA): basically, what it does is to mimic the natural evolution processes to solve engineering problems. Out of all of the problems that can be solved with this type of system, I focus on Optimization Problems: distributing limited resources in the best way possible in any process, or finding solutions that propose a better use of those resources.
YT: what can it be applied in?
HA: Optimization problems occur because there is a limit for resources. By resources, we can refer to both, economic resources or temporary resources, or any other factor involved in the proper conclusion of a process. We apply it in industry for the optimization of industrial designs and production processes. This can also include systems that have a high social impact, such as water distribution systems, for instance. We also work with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), in aerospace design optimization. Additionally, we do it by prioritizing criteria for the classification of solutions according to the needs of the process.
YT: How is it related to Darwin’s evolutionary principle?
HA: The adaptability of living beings to an environment is conditioned by their expressed genes. In the first generation, beings with better features had a greater chance to survive and subsequently, to reproduce, which leaves us with a second generation that will do the same. Evolutionary computation simulates these processes. Each solution to a problem has specific characteristics that are comparable to those expressed genes. This happens because there are many solutions to one problem, so we have the chance to choose the best, to use its features to propose a new generation of solutions to general problems, and to imitate the evolutionary process.
YT: How is the science, technology and innovation field in Ecuador?
HA: There is a great difference between technological innovation and scientific innovation. Technological innovation is designing applications with knowledge that was produced long ago, like Facebook. Science is dedicated to creating knowledge that we did not have before. That is the goal of scientific innovation. I think there are efforts in Ecuador, but in a general context, what we still lack is the creation of knowledge. This is an economic priority as any other and it has certain stages.
For example, amateur soccer players can have as much talent as professional players in a league, but professional players are required to form a national team because they are dedicated to it full-time. In Ecuador, the setting is starting to rise, but it still needs a little more of general efforts, especially in the training of science professionals. There are still very few doctoral programs. In addition, Ecuadorian institutions in general do not consider scientific innovation as a way to solve their problems. That’s something we’re just starting, and I’m happy, but we still have a long way to go.
YT: What do you think of a project like Yachay Tech in a country like Ecuador?
HA: The effort is obviously good. I really like the idea. I still think that the project has little information for people like me. The problem is that the project has gained a political connotation and it has become a bit restricted, in my opinion. I had a conversation with Andreas Griewank [current Dean of Mathematics and Information Technology at Yachay Tech] a while ago and my opinion is that all these efforts are laudable and have a good initiative. Personally, I would have emphasized more on graduate programs at first, and left undergraduate programs to evolve with time. The biggest problem I see for most research professionals is that they look for human talent to do research, which is usually graduate students. Yachay Tech won’t have that for a while. Reaching these positions takes time because it requires research teams and Yachay Tech won’t have that for now. However, I see the project with very good eyes, I hope they can continue with all its efforts and research dissemination so we can see the results when it is finally established.
YT: What’s the way to apply scientific innovation in technological innovation?
HA: Technological innovation always has its risks. You never know what the ultimate impact of technological innovation will be. Therefore, science always moves faster than technological applications. The key is having lines of research that are tailored to the needs of the world, producing scientific knowledge, promoting the creation of technology companies and nurturing them until results are obtained. This is not a short process. Basically, the state should be responsible for investing in scientific innovation, that’s the way it works worldwide. It should be done through universities and research institutions. Then it has to encourage the creation of technological companies, which is a stage yet to be reached in Ecuador. I think it’s a mistake to think that the application of science and technology innovation occur immediately after scientific innovation. These processes always take more than a couple of years.
Hernan Aguirre has written 4 books and over 120 publications. He is a Systems Engineer, EPN. He worked in the private sector in the United States and El Salvador, and taught at the National Polytechnic School, PUCE and Shinshu University, in Japan. He has collaborated with Ecuador, France, and Slovenia. He has received 8 awards for best publication in Spain, Japan, Ireland, and Canada. Aside from the countries aforementioned, he has also lectured in France, Malaysia, Italy, among others. He is an academic authority in research of Evolutionary Computation and optimization techniques.