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IT - against sanctions and fashion on neural networks

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Under this heading, an article was published in the Ufa magazine (No. 5 (246), May 2022), where the questions of the correspondent Svetlana Yanova are answered by the acting. Dean of the Faculty of Informatics and Robotics of the USATU, Candidate of Technical Sciences, Associate Professor Aleksey Kovtunenko.

Alexey Sergeevich became the first guest of the new section of the Motivator magazine.

- The decree on supporting the IT industry in the face of sanctions is practically the first one signed by the President of Russia. This step was taken against the backdrop of a massive outflow of IT specialists from the country. Can we slow down?

- Mass outflow I do not see. The IT community (be it programmers or system administrators, specialists in the architecture of software or hardware systems) is international, and the percentage of Russian specialists in this community is very large. Many of them went abroad a long time ago, founded their own companies. Our engineering, cybernetic and mathematical schools played a role here, from which a generation of developers and programmers grew up.

Meanwhile, the outflow is a quite predictable phenomenon and quite common for us. We live in the region and constantly observe how the best personnel leave for Moscow and St. Petersburg, and then to the West. In the future, the main task is to detain them not just in the country, but also in the region. So far, it is rather difficult to compete in the labor market with the capitals: our enterprises are simply not able to digest the number of talented IT specialists that we produce. I would like to believe that we are participating in the creation of a new economic layer - companies, centers of competence for software development, and the support measures that our government has developed will help us in this.

- There is such a stereotype: a good IT specialist is able to hack any system. Today, in the conditions of the information war, this topic often pops up...

- In career guidance work, the question is often asked: do you train hackers? It is important to understand clearly that there is a big difference between people involved in illegal activities and information security specialists. We do not train criminals; on the contrary, we try to raise specialists whose main goal will be to prevent such crimes. Our information security department has been repeatedly recognized as the best in this area in the country, and students regularly win all kinds of information security competitions. Therefore, without too much modesty, we can say that we train some of the best IT specialists in Russia, and certainly the best in the republic.

- Will those preferences offered by the government help?

- Should. IT-specialists are the same people, stability and prosperity are important to them. Since the natural outflow of them from the region and the country, as I said, is associated with the choice of more comfortable conditions, it can be expected that financial benefits motivate young people both to first choose an IT direction for study and to stay in their region after graduation. In addition, preferences for medium and small businesses should stimulate the development of high-tech enterprises in the regions

- How can the IT industry help their country?

- Yes, a lot. A large number of technological and business processes are directly related to software and data analytics. A number of defense and engineering enterprises have now lost the opportunity to work and produce products in connection with the restrictions imposed. Many companies are experiencing inconvenience in this situation, and the main goal of the IT industry is to help such companies, firms and enterprises. The main task today is the creation of domestic analogues of software for both equipment and business.

- Can we compete with mastodons? Surely, it will take time to create their analogues...

- Yes, sometimes you have to reinvent the wheel, but it will be our wheel. In addition, I do not rule out such a possibility, according to some characteristics it will be better than foreign ones, since we have our own developments in the field of high-tech software.

Of course, there are software complexes that will be very difficult to replace completely with domestic counterparts and will require large resources - time and money. However, doing this work in any case will not be superfluous. It is just that another product of domestic development will appear on this market.

- What are the consequences of sanctions in the industry?

- Of course, we felt their influence. Despite the fact that a large part of professional software is free and distributed in source codes - the so-called Open Source - in the educational process, and in life, we often encounter commercial licensed software, the manufacturers of which have decided to suspend the sale of licenses and support in Russia. For each such product, depending on its role in the work of the university, we carefully assess the risks and select analogues. This is not an easy job. It requires high qualifications; therefore, at the request of our industrial partners, we often do this for them: we select or develop analogues of imported programs. - In your opinion, how quickly can we catch up with developed countries? It is known, after all, that in a hopeless situation, the human mind is able to work faster than usual.

- It will not be easy to raise something that has not been developed since the late 80s and has now turned out to be destroyed. I am talking primarily about domestic instrumentation and microelectronics. By the way, we have always been very good at everything with mathematics, algorithms and programming, as well as with artificial intelligence technologies. In USATU, for example, scientists have been actively engaged in artificial intelligence since the mid-90s. In 2010, Yuri Ivanovich Zozulya, one of the founders of the study of artificial neural networks in Russia, defended his doctoral dissertation. So, he began to study them in 1971 - at the same time as the American scientists. I want to say that the list of areas in which we need to "catch up" in reality is not so great. It is much more important to correctly allocate resources and engage in truly important developments.

- How to determine what is important, what areas, what developments?

- This is a very difficult question; there is no single answer to it. It is known that the scientific agenda, including in the professional community, is sometimes determined not only by the objective “significance” and by “necessity” of certain areas, but largely by fashion and popularity. The media and large corporations can have a significant impact on the development of science and technology. I will give a simple example. Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are currently directly associated with neural networks and are even identified with them in some publications. Moreover, sometimes you can even hear that the development of neural network algorithms began in the 2010s. In reality, they have existed since the 50s of the XX century. Since then, neural networks have experienced several rebirths, and each of them is associated with success in any related industries - in mathematics, electronics, and programming. In the early 2010s, mathematical accelerators on video cards became widespread. Manufacturers of which have added the ability to use GPUs to speed up mathematical calculations and “restarted” the global trend to use neural networks. However, along with this, a "fashion" for the neural network appeared with all the ensuing consequences: thoughtless and sometimes unreasonable use, noisy media coverage and wild popularity outside the professional community.

- The so-called "infogypsyism"?

- If earlier this word denoted uninformative and meaningless psychological courses, and personal growth trainings, now the phenomenon is increasingly associated with IT. In the wake of the popularity of the topic of artificial intelligence among scientific and technical results and training courses, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish really valuable and new from useless and frankly copied. We saw this when several times a day there were reports in the news about certain “new achievements” of neural networks, the number of training programs, sites and “Internet universities” in this area exceeded common sense, and every second grant or startup , whose name contained the "magic" wording, was supported by public funding.

Now the state is faced with a big task to prevent the waste of resources on meaningless research and development. How effectively it is solved, time will tell, but my colleagues and I are making every effort to ensure that competent specialists participate in decision-making - we teach students both basic things and the most modern achievements, including in the field of artificial intelligence technologies.

 


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